NEW ORLEANS – U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, responsible for all oil spill suits filed in federal court, met privately with hundreds of plaintiff lawyers on Friday, Aug. 13.
Barbier, on his fourth day as Multi District Litigation judge for oil spill cases, honored a previous commitment to teach at a meeting of the Louisiana Association of Justice.
The association, which formerly called itself Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, advances the interest of the plaintiffs bar.
Barbier's audience almost certainly included lawyers pursuing oil spill litigation.
The association denied public access.
Louisiana Record reporter Alejandro de los Rios requested press credential and arranged to pay a $424 fee, but the registration desk excluded him when he could not provide a state bar number.
De los Rios said a person at the desk told him to be respectful of a professional organizational meeting.
An agenda of the conference showed that Barbier and U.S. District Judge Richard Haik Sr. of Lafayette would discuss recent developments in maritime law at the continuing legal education event.
Barbier presides over pretrial proceedings in federal oil spill cases by appointment of The Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.
The panel appointed him on Aug. 10.
Legal observer Ted Frank, founder and president of the Center for Class Action Fairness, said in a written statement that he had no "blanket objection" to a judge speaking to a group of trial lawyers or defense lawyers.
"The panel discussion where Judge Barbier spoke does have a fairly neutral description," Frank said. "One hopes that the content of Judge Barbier's remarks to the trial lawyers would not provide grounds for questioning his impartiality, and, if Judge Barbier's remarks were as anodyne as I would expect them to be, one hopes that the trial lawyers release those remarks to the public so that Judge Barbier's impartiality is not questioned unfairly."
Melissa Landry, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch organization, said the public and media should have had access to the "important" event.
"By depriving the public and the media an opportunity to hear Judge Barbier's speech at this conference, the LAFJ is effectively creating an atmosphere of secrecy that will raise questions about the appearance of impropriety related to this unprecedented disaster and the litigation that's been filed in response to it," Landry wrote in a statement.