Brent Coon's Response to New York Times Op Ed on BP by Joe Nocera
Before anyone starts feeling sorry for BP in the oil spill litigation and buy off on the article written by Mr. Nocera of the New York Times, reprinted in the Enterprise last week, certain facts should be known:
The New York Times is accepting millions of dollars in BP and U.S. Chamber of Commerce advertising. Full page ads directly criticizing the BP litigation, specifically the plaintiff lawyers involved in representing claimants.
This is all part of a long term strategy of the Chamber and big business on tort reform (or corporate immunity legislation). In fact, the U.S. Chamber owns The Southeast Texas Record, which regularly spews falsehoods about the legal system and plaintiff lawyers.
Mr. Nocera has written several articles sympathetic to BP, some so blatantly wrong on the facts that the normally stoic Judge involved in this case blistered it and BP for the falsehoods. Just one example is where the reporter stated that the administrator of the settlement fund was a "plaintiffs' lawyer" screwing BP. The facts are that the administrator was a lifelong defense lawyer, the former PRESIDENT of the defense bar and the person BP HAND PICKED to oversee the fund. BP also hand-picked the accounting firms and law firms to oversee the settlement fund.
This isn't the first PR effort of BP in response to this litigation or other past sins. BP has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising since the oil spill. That they are sorry. That the Gulf is clean again. That they have learned their lesson. Using reporters to do their dirty work is just one angle.
I have litigated cases with BP for many years and they are pathological murderers. Their management and corporate culture that of a sociopath. There is no moral compass. They were still on probation for FELONY MANSLAUGHTER from killing 15 workers in Texas City in 2005 when they killed 11 more in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Only two years ago they allowed a refining unit to leak highly toxic poisons into the entire community of Texas City for 45 days without reporting it to citizens, many of whom became sick. They have amassed more fines for violating safety laws THAN ALL OF THEIR COMPETITORS COMBINED!
Mr. Nocera condemns all mass torts and professes that "all the money goes to the lawyers". Fact is, in the BP class settlement, 75% of every recovery goes directly to the claimant. So the law firm gets 25% for handling the claim, rounding up the relevant documentation to support the claim, negotiating a myriad of issues of the 1200 page settlement agreement, dealing with the attorneys and accountants for the fund, and addressing the appeals process. Our firm even waived all fees in many of the interim payments last year.
Mr. Nocera congratulates BP for setting up a "voluntary claims fund" after the oil spill. What he forgot to mention is that FEDERAL LAW required them to. It wasn't voluntary. The law mandates it. It is called the Oil Pollution Act, passed by Congress in 1990. What he didn’t say is that BP rejected payment on the vast majority of claims in an effort to starve people out.
My firm represents thousands of individuals and businesses all along the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas through Florida for losses associated to the spill. More than three years afterwards, there are still tens of millions of gallons of toxic dispersant- mixed oil on the bottom of the gulf. Entire dead zones on the bottom of the sea. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs after the spill, from the shutdown of operations in the Gulf, to the ban on shrimping and fishing, to the devastating flight away from many of the hot spot tourist areas all along the Gulf. Thousands of small mom and pop businesses went under because they didn’t have enough capital to stay afloat.
I have been a trial attorney for almost 30 years. I have handled cases all over the country. Our firm has drafted legislation to make products and work places safer. We have engaged in settlements which routed tens of millions of dollars to educational and medical programs to improve health and safety in the industrial sector. We have testified in Austin and in Congress. Anyone who really wants to claim to be an expert on our legal system and why we should blame the plaintiff lawyers raise your hand for a debate. A real debate. A debate where you can't hide behind fake stories, fake facts, fake issues and fake articles. The legitimate press has a responsibility to be authoritative and reliable. Mr. Nocera did his readership and that of the Times a disservice when an article was run that was blatantly wrong on most of the relevant facts on a matter of high public import. Failing to admit that the NYTs was taking BP blood money in the process only further compromised their credibility…proof that these days even the NYTs can succumb to the use of attack ads, anecdotes, misinformation, bad investigative reporting, self-dealing, sensationalism and yes…pandering to corporations who are willing to pay them enough.
Brent W. Coon