A New Orleans attorney implicated in a fraud investigation into the processing of claims made against BP’s oil spill settlement has asked a federal judge to dismiss a legal malpractice claim against him.
Jonathan Andry has moved to dismiss a case brought by former client Howell Construction Inc. Howell, in a suit filed on Jan. 16, claims that Andry and two firms with which he is affiliated, Andry Lerner and Andry Law Group, as well as Christina Mancuso, an attorney at Andry Law Group, advised the company to opt out of the 2012 settlement, which BP has lately valued at $9.2 billion. The settlement is designed to compensate individuals and businesses for economic damages tied to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.
“As a result of defendant’s representation of plaintiff, defendants misevaluated plaintiff’s potential claim under the multibillion-dollar BP settlement regarding economic damages,” Howell’s attorney, Robert Matthews, of Matthews & Warriner in New Orleans, wrote. “This misevaluation of the claim, and its decision and actions to opt out of the BP settlement was gross professional negligence.”
Andry, in a motion to dismiss, insists that Howell suffered no oil spill damages. In a Jan. 23, 2013, letter attached to Howell’s court papers, Mancuso cited the company’s “significant increase in revenue” in 2010 as a reason not to pursue damages on its behalf.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has yet to rule on the motion, which another federal judge transferred to his court on Thursday.
Matthews declined to comment, and E. Phelps Gay, a partner at New Orleans-based Christovich & Kearney, who filed court papers on behalf of the defendants, said he no longer represented them. He referred calls to Lewis Unglesby of Unglesby Law Firm in Baton Rouge, who declined to comment.
According to the suit, Howell has been unable to pursue an oil spill claim for $4 million in lost business in part because Andry Lerner’s claims were put on hold following an investigation by former FBI agent Louis Freeh, who recommended sanctions against Andry and three other attorneys. Andry, who has denied any wrongdoing, has been fighting to lift that freeze.
Howell also cited Andry Lerner’s failure to present its claim as required under the Oil Pollution Act.
“Although plaintiff did not understand it at the time, by opting plaintiff out of the settlement, plaintiff was forever barred from filing a claim under the BP settlement even if defendants withdrew from his representation,” Matthews wrote.
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