Judge won't block new round of BP seafood payments

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 26, 2014 at 4:26 pm •  Published: February 26, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge refused Wednesday to halt payments from a BP fund to compensate deckhands and other seafood workers harmed financially by the 2010 Gulf oil spill, turning back arguments by the oil giant that the payment process was tainted by a Texas lawyer's alleged fraud.

BP argues the $2.3 billion it agreed to put into the oil spill seafood compensation fund was inflated, based on the belief that attorney Mikal Watts represented more than 40,000 clients.

BP claims that more than half of the Social Security numbers on Watts' client list were fake. Watts' attorney has denied that Watts committed fraud.

More than $1 billion of the fund has been distributed in an initial round of payouts. BP wanted a second round of payments suspended.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier said a suspension was unnecessary. He said the second round, for which no date has been set, is at best months away.

Barbier added that the people Watts claimed to represent were deckhands and other workers who usually worked temporary jobs with little or no documentation of past employment and scant means of proving losses. Such clients would likely not account for a large percentage of the $1 billion-plus left in the fund, he said.

"They were at best the tail wagging the dog. Maybe the flea on the tail wagging the dog," Barbier said.

Barbier did grant a request from Watts' lawyers for a delay in BP's lawsuit against Watts, agreeing to put that matter on hold at least temporarily while a criminal case against Watts unfolds.



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