Lawyers seek claims against BP at Patterson meeting

PATTERSON — Seafood harvesters and others packed a meeting room at the Patterson Civic Center Tuesday in a session hosted by an attorney firm representing clients in the BP oil spill settlement.

Mitchell McCrea, an attorney with Baron and Budd of Dallas, opened the session with an overview of where the settlement process stands now.

McCrea noted that a final settlement agreement is under review in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. It is unknown when the judge in the case will rule.

There will be a hearing Nov. 8 to decide on approval of the settlement. When approved, applicants will have six months from that date to file claims. However, there is a static deadline of April 22, 2014, to file claims that would be negated when the settlement is approved any time before that date.

McCrea noted that the supposed settlement payment cap of $7 billion is “just the floor. That’s not the ceiling.” He said the judge earlier declared that there would be “no limit on the amount to be paid by BP.”

The seafood compensation program, however, remains capped at $2.3 billion, he said, based on the number of commercial licenses.

BP will pay all administrative costs and up to $600 million in attorney fees.

Baron and Budd will take 25 percent out of any settlements awarded to its clients. That brought a few protests among the attendees, who reminded McCrea that he had just mentioned BP would pay attorney fees. McCrea said for every $100 BP pays to the settlement, $6 goes to attorneys on the original steering committee.

“That $600 million, however it’s divvied up among the attorneys, will be applied to that 25 percent,” he said. “We just don’t know how that’s going to be divvied up.”

Several individuals left the meeting at that point.

McCrea said clients would submit 2007-09 tax returns, and accountants on their staff will consider the best three to eight months before the spill that were most profitable, chosen by the client, and compare it to the same months after the spill.

Anyone can opt out of the settlement process by Oct. 1, or wait for the settlement process to play out without an attorney.

A seafood processor in the audience complained that companies such as his are not being fairly treated in the settlement. McCrea said efforts are being made with the court to improve the standing of processors.

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