MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the lawyers singled out in an investigation of alleged misconduct in the settlement program for victims of BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill is questioning the chief investigator’s impartiality.
Before a judge appointed him to lead the investigation, former FBI Director Louis Freeh disclosed that he is a partner at a law firm that is working on an unrelated case with lawyers for Kirkland & Ellis, a firm that represents the London-based oil giant.
In a court filing Wednesday, lawyers for New Orleans-based attorney Jon Andry argue they need more information about the relationship to determine whether to seek Freeh’s disqualification as “special master.”
In a report last month, Freeh said he found “ample evidence” that Andry and other attorneys tried to corrupt the settlement process by using a lawyer on the staff of claims administrator Patrick Juneau to expedite a $7.9 million settlement claim by The Andry Law Firm.
Andry’s lawyers claim Freeh has withheld evidence that could clear Andry of wrongdoing and “abandoned all pretense of the neutrality required of a Special Master.”
“It requires no imagination to understand the value to BP and by extension its law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, of the criticisms made by Freeh,” they wrote.
Freeh is a partner and chairman of the executive committee of Pepper Hamilton LLP, a law firm that also owns his consulting company, Freeh Group International Solutions. Andry’s lawyers said Pepper Hamilton is working with Kirkland & Ellis on class-action litigation over the diabetes drug Avandia.
“Jon Andry has a right to a Special Master free of conflicts and free of the appearance of conflicts,” his lawyers wrote.
“Mr. Jon Andry’s lawyers’ belated and rambling motion to recuse the Special Master is without merit in law and fact,” Freeh said in a statement emailed by Freeh Group International Solutions LLC president and CEO Jim Bucknam.
Freeh said he fully disclosed the “claimed conflicts” before he was appointed. “Additionally, all of the Special Master’s fees in this case are approved by the Court, not by BP and its lawyers,” he wrote.
Separately, Andry’s attorneys, led by Lewis Unglesby, asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier for an order requiring Freeh to turn over all of the material that he gathered during his investigation.
“Freeh has made mistakes. They are substantial. They have caused great damage, but these errors are fixable once all the facts come out,” they wrote.
In the report he issued on Sept. 7, Freeh cleared Juneau of engaging in any “conflict of interest, or unethical or improper conduct.” But he concluded that top members of Juneau’s staff engaged in conduct that was improper, unethical and possibly criminal.
Freeh said Andry and another private attorney, Glen Lerner, used Lionel Sutton, a lawyer on Juneau’s staff, to expedite their firm’s claim. In return, Sutton received more than $40,000 in fees from payments on claims he had referred to their law firm before joining Juneau’s staff, Freeh’s report says.
Freeh recommended that his report be forwarded to the Justice Department so it could determine whether Andry and others broke any laws. He also urged Barbier to consider disallowing payment on the $7.9 million claim.