NEW ORLEANS – Deepwater Horizon Claims Administrator Patrick Juneau said he was not threatening to sue the chief executive of BP PLC when he told a Lafayette newspaper recently that the oil executive had publicly disparaged his reputation to a degree that was “actionable.”
In a recent interview with Lafayette-based newspaper The Daily Advertiser, Juneau claimed BP CEO Bob Dudley lied and publicly stated Juneau had “willfully misinterpreted” the legal settlement agreement over the energy giant’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Juneau has been under attack by BP and other critics since late 2012 over claims he misinterpreted the business economic loss (BEL) portion of the settlement agreement arising from the spill, resulting in the over payment of hundreds of million of dollars in claims. BP had long claimed that the calculation method Juneau was using to determine payouts did not properly match income against expenses for business that were claiming a loss associated with the spill. Late last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with BP, ordering Juneau to adopt a different method of calculating losses. Some plaintiff’s lawyers say the new method of calculating losses will sharply reduce settlement amounts for many claimants.
In his interview with the Advertiser, Juneau said Dudley accused him of “willfully’’ misinterpreting the terms of the settlement, an accusation he vehemently denied. In the interview, Juneau said he considered Dudley’s comments “actionable,’’ suggesting they might form the basis for a disparagement suit.
“BP’s CEO Bob Dudley said I was willfully misinterpreting the settlement; that’s a lie and, yes, it is actionable,” Juneau said in the Advertiser piece.
In an interview with the Louisiana Record, Juneau said that while he does not remember calling Dudley a liar when speaking to the Advertiser, he is standing by the other statements that appear in the article.
“I don’t recall using the word, I did say there was no question that was not correct, not true, use whatever word you want to use,” he said.
In using the term “actionable” with regard to Dudley’s comments, Juneau said it was not in the context of potential litigation.
“For somebody to say something like that in that context is sanctionable. You can get sanctioned in Federal Court because you can’t use those words. I’m not talking about lawsuits here. It is inappropriate, inaccurate and not correct,” Juneau said.
In response to Juneau’s statement, Geoff Morrell, BP senior vice president, U.S. communications and external affairs, said Dudley never used the term “willfully misinterpreted” to describe Juneau’s handling of the claims.
“We have never questioned Mr. Juneau’s personal integrity, yet Mr. Juneau has asserted that we have personally offended him, and he has falsely accused our CEO of lying and says that he has judged certain of our statements to be ‘actionable.’ All of this seems unusual for a claims administrator working on behalf of the court in administering a settlement,” he said.
In fact, Appointing Special Masters and Other Judicial Adjuncts: A Benchbook For Judges And Lawyers, published by the Academy of Court-Appointed Masters, defines rules special masters, such as Juneau, should go by to avoid even the appearance of bias.
“A judicial adjunct must be patient, dignified, respectful, and courteous; apply an even- handed and unbiased process; and treat all parties with respect,” the guide says.
In referencing the guide, Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said Juneau’s comments in the Advertiser article raise questions about his ability to fairly administer the settlement as he is charged to do as a court-appointed special master.
“Special masters are supposed to administer settlements without favor to either side,” Landry said. “Juneau’s threatening comments, which were made in a public forum, seem to suggest that he’s not acting with impartiality.”
Despite concerns raised about his objectivity, Juneau said while he was personally offended by Dudley’s supposed remarks, it will not change his professional objectivity on the matter.
“(It would) be dishonest to say it wasn’t personally offensive. I think it was extremely inaccurate, inappropriate and shouldn’t have been made,” he said. “And I would have hoped they retracted that, but it doesn’t affect one iota what I am doing here.”