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Policy: Law

Claims expert critical of BP under fire for alleged conflict of interest

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BP,Energy and Environment,Law,Legal Newsline
LeCesne

LeCesne

NEW ORLEANS (Legal Newsline) – A Loyola University professor who has held himself out as an impartial expert on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has a stake in a claim against the energy giant, court documents show.

Blaine LeCesne, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law since 1991, has served as a legal analyst for numerous local, national and international media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, PBS News Hour, the British Broadcasting Company and Al Jazeera Television. He is also author of “Crude Decisions: Re-examining Degrees of Negligence in the Context of the BP Oil Spill” – an academic paper providing a comprehensive overview of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the ensuing legal fallout.

LeCesne’s commentary has been critical of BP’s conduct surrounding the payment of thousands of claims related to the oil spill.

But according to a report submitted by former FBI director Louis Freeh in the BP case pending in federal court in New Orleans, LeCesne in 2013 attempted to intervene on behalf of Nolmar Corp., a New Orleans janitorial and construction company that had a claim pending against BP. LeCesne is vice-president and general counsel at Nolmar.

Freeh was hired by BP to uncover allegations of fraud associated with the Deepwater Horizon litigation.

Freeh’s report states that Lionel “Tiger” Sutton, a now-disgraced former deputy of Claims Administrator Patrick Juneau, accessed Nolmar’s claim eight separate times in 2013. Sutton has since been accused by Freeh of attempting to expedite payment of fraudulent claims while working for Juneau.

In a phone interview, LeCesne admitted he spoke to Sutton on “maybe one or two occasions” in an attempt to jump-start the Nolmar claim. Though Nolmar retained Diliberto & Kirin, L.L.C. to pursue the claim, LeCesne admitted to calling Sutton to speak about Nolmar’s claim.

LeCesne denies doing anything improper.

“There is a big difference between inquiring about the status of a claim and trying to have it expedited to go in front others who are in the queue,” LeCesne said. “And any attorney representing a BP plaintiff whose claim has not moved for a year would be engaged in malpractice to not inquire about their client’s claim.”

Sutton resigned from the Court Supervised Settlement Program (CSSP) after being accused of trying to expedite a BP claim that was later found to be fraudulent. Sutton was also accused of taking a $40,000 referral fee from a partner of the AndryLerner Law Firm, a law firm created specifically to handle BP claims. All claims filed by the AndryLerner Firm have been frozen pending Freeh’s investigation.

LeCesne said he has been legal counsel for Nolmar Corp. for the past six years and that he called Sutton, after being given his number from another Loyola faculty member, on Nolmar’s behalf.

LeCesne said by contacting Sutton he was not trying to expedite the claim, but only check on its status.

Although BP claims documents are confidential, records that were filed along with the court’s investigation into Sutton show he accessed Nolmar’s claims documents at least eight times when he was working for the CSSP. According to records filed in the court by Freeh, out of 187 claims Sutton accessed during his tenure with Juneau he only accessed six other claims more times than he did Nolmar’s.

LeCesne said despite his relationship with Nolmar and BP dedicating a portion of a website it runs to criticizing him and his media appearances, he said his comments are objective.

Sutton said that he didn’t remember speaking to LeCesne.

Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said following the revelation that LeCesne has worked on behalf of Nolmar regarding BP claims, his impartiality should be called into question.

“Simply put, this doesn’t pass the smell test,” she said. “A law professor presents himself to the media and the public as a unbiased legal expert on a case, but never discloses the fact that he has a financial interest in the outcome. That’s misleading, at best.”

LeCesne said he has been careful to not involve himself directly with any claims handling for fear of being perceived as biased.

“I knew if I were actively engaged in representing claimants I would obviously have a bias in interpreting the legal issues,” he said. “So I didn’t want that to be questioned.”

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