Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra Craft in San Antonio ()
A federal criminal investigation of Mikal Watts and his firm, Watts Guerra, has not yet reached a conclusion, even though Watts’ civil lawyer had predicted at a February federal court hearing that a conclusion would come by June.
Robert McDuff, a solo criminal defense lawyer from Jackson, Miss., represents Watts and his firm. McDuff wrote in an email to Texas Lawyer, “Our understanding is that the investigation is ongoing. At the conclusion, we hope that the U.S. attorney will agree with us that there is no basis for his office to take action with respect to Mikal’s work on the BP case. In the meantime, Mikal continues to discharge his obligations to his clients in various cases.”
Watts referred all questions for this story to McDuff.
Watts’ civil lawyer, Gerald Meunier, didn’t return a call for this story, but he confirmed the existence of the criminal investigation at a Feb. 26 hearing in a federal civil lawsuit. In that case, BP Exploration & Production v. Mikal Watts in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, BP alleged in a complaint filed Dec. 17, 2013, that Watts and his firm filed claims related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for “clients” whom the lawyer and law firm did not represent.
During that hearing, Meunier, a member in New Orleans’ Gainsburgh, Benjamin, David, Meunier & Warshauer, confirmed that the federal government’s criminal investigation also focused on those allegations. At the hearing Meunier also argued successfully for a stay. Watts and his firm asked for the stay, arguing that the pending criminal investigation would call for Watts to invoke his rights not to testify.
“It is a matter of record here that Mr. McDuff would advise Mikal Watts to invoke his constitutional privilege and decline to testify in response to discovery in the civil matter, which relates to the same activities as the pending criminal investigation,” Meunier told the judge, according to a hearing transcript.
Watts and his firm have strenuously denied the allegations BP made in its complaint. In a statement issued to Texas Lawyer at the time of the BP complaint, McDuff wrote, “BP’s attack is unfair and unwarranted. Working with other lawyers representing a wide array of oil spill victims, Mr. Watts devoted thousands of hours to uncovering the misdeeds of BP that led the oil spill and that disrupted the lives of many thousands of people who live in the region.”
The statement continued: Mikal Watts “made various filings on behalf of people to preserve their rights to pursue claims. All actions taken were in good faith that legitimate claims were being filed for real people who had been hurt by BP’s gross negligence … Mr. Watts will defend himself against BP’s misleading attack.”
Meunier said at that Feb. 26 hearing that the government’s criminal investigation would conclude by June. McDuff wrote in an email that Watts has filed a “confidential” report with the judge in that case. McDuff also wrote, “Although I had expected a decision by June, the U.S. attorney had indicated that it might take longer. Many investigations take more time than originally anticipated. We appreciate all efforts by the U.S. attorney to explore this matter thoroughly and give it careful consideration before making a decision.”
James Neath, an associate general counsel for BP America, who represents the company in the Watts civil litigation, did not return a call seeking comment.
Throughout this year, despite the criminal investigation, Watts has continued to file hundreds of plaintiffs cases. PACER system records show Watts has filed 592 federal cases between Jan. 1 and Aug. 5.
In 558 of the 592 federal cases that Watts has filed between Jan. 1 and Aug. 5, he represents plaintiffs in multidistrict litigation against the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, which produces Pradaxa, an oral anticoagulant. The litigation is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in East St. Louis.
In that litigation,Watts serves as colead counsel in negotiations that led to a tentative settlement, according a May 28 implementation order of the settlement. On the same day as that order, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that it would pay some 4,000 plaintiffs $650 million in a settlement. In its statement announcing the deal, the company said that although “the benefits and safety of Pradaxa have been confirmed” and “we would prevail in these lawsuits,” it wanted to avoid protracted litigation.
In his email to Texas Lawyer, McDuff wrote: “Having been appointed by a federal court as colead counsel for the plaintiffs steering committee in the multidistrict litigation over the blood thinner Pradaxa, Mikal helped to steer the case to a successful resolution in which the manufacturer agreed in late May to pay $650 million to settle the claims of approximately 4,000 people over deaths and serious injuries stemming from bleeding caused by the drug.”
Robert Limbacher, a partner in Philadelphia’s Goodale DeVries, who represents the drug manufacturer, confirmed Watts’ role in negotiations but declined to comment further about the litigation.
This year, Watts has also filed nine cases in Texas federal courts, including claims for patients making patent infringement claims and a personal injury claim against an oil company.
“Mikal is a good lawyer, and people know he is a good lawyer. While the investigation is unfortunate, he continues to carry out his duties to his clients,” McDuff wrote in his email.