Former FBI Director Louis Freeh
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh (Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)

BP PLC wants access to documents detailing flaws in the distribution of Deepwater Horizon oil-spill claims only to feed its public relations campaign against the $9.6 billion settlement, lawyers who filed objections to the move argued this week.

The report, released on Jan. 17 by special master Louis Freeh, accused a former official of the settlement claims office of mishandling an email regarding a claim, and said that he and two other former claims officials had frequented a New Orleans bar that received $500,000 in oil-spill compensation. Freeh, former director of the FBI, recommended procedural changes to address such conflicts of interest.

BP, which has complained that the settlement compensates businesses that suffered no oil-spill losses, has asked Freeh to turn over witness statements and transcripts so that it can weigh whether “more drastic action” is required.

“The disclosures in this latest report are deeply troubling,” wrote BP attorney Kevin Downey, a partner at Washington’s Williams & Connolly, in a Jan. 29 filing.

Class counsel denounced BP’s request as a “fishing expedition” that would violate the settlement’s confidentiality protections.

“Anyone reading the newspapers knows that BP has repeatedly, and in bad faith, violated these contractual requirements and responsibilities—in court filings, in paid advertisements, on its websites, and in corporate statements to the press,” Stephen Herman, a partner at Herman, Herman & Katz in New Orleans, and James P. Roy, managing member of Domengeaux Wright Roy & Edwards of Lafayette, La., wrote in documents filed on Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan set a Friday deadline for filing arguments on the matter.

Others have objected to BP’s request. An attorney for David Duval—the claims official accused by Freeh of mishandling an email about a claim brought by a law firm in which his uncle and cousin are partners—wrote that BP’s efforts “seem more designed toward another advertising campaign” than the report. He noted that Freeh found no evidence that his client had financially benefited from his actions.

“Once again, BP has decided to be loose with the facts in what is a transparent effort to engender another wave of media hype,” his attorney, Harry Rosenberg, a partner at New Orleans-based Phelps Dunbar, wrote. “While this Court understandably is concerned and has addressed the need for a properly run Claims Office, this Court’s sensitivities should not serve as a springboard for the next round of personal assaults by BP.”

Even Freeh himself objected, calling BP’s request irrelevant. “Here, the Special Master has made no adverse findings or recommendations against BP, and BP has been given the opportunity to comment on the Special Master’s Reports,” he wrote.

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