BOB JOHNSON • ASSOCIATED PRESS • JANUARY 26, 2011
Alabama’s new attorney general says he will be lead counsel in the state’s lawsuit against BP and others over the Gulf oil spill and that he hopes his presence at a federal court hearing shows the judge how important the case is to residents harmed by the disaster.
Luther Strange said Wednesday that he’ll take the lead since the state is no longer using private law firms for the case.
Alabama has been harmed more than any other Gulf state hit by the spill mostly because its tourism revenue is based on attracting visitors to its pristine white sand beaches, he said. Strange estimated that the state lost $148 million in tax revenues because of the spill and that businesses lost as much as $824 million in earnings.
The hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed against BP and other companies over damages have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. Barbier is holding a status conference in his courtroom at 9:30 a.m. Friday to discuss how to proceed with efforts to settle some of the cases and bring others to trial.
“I want to make sure the judge understands this is a top priority for Alabama,” Strange said about being there.
Strange said he is working with new Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to pursue both the lawsuit and claims against BP. Former Gov. Bob Riley and former Attorney General Troy King were often at odds over how to proceed to recover losses. King filed a lawsuit, while Riley initially wanted to pursue the claims process.
Deputy Attorney General Corey Maze will be in court with Strange. He said attorneys are still trying to determine how much money the state lost that would include cleanup and lost tax revenue.
Asked if he thought the state’s claims against BP would eventually go to court, Maze said, “I question whether BP wants to face an Alabama jury knowing what they’ve done to Alabama.”
Former Alabama Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley said his Montgomery law firm had been working on the legal action against BP for the state, but stepped aside when Strange took office earlier this month.
But Beasley said his firm still represents numerous clients with claims and lawsuits against BP. One of his firm’s attorneys, Ron Jones, has been appointed by Judge Barbier to a committee that his helping the judge manage the massive case.