Texas lawyer seeks hold on BP spill suit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Texas lawyer being sued by oil giant BP
over allegations that he falsely claimed to represent thousands of
deckhands who lost money in the 2010 Gulf oil spill has asked a federal
court to delay the lawsuit while a criminal investigation plays out.
filing on behalf of Mikal Watts says federal officials have seized and
copied material from Watts’ law firm regarding oil spill claims. Watts’
attorney, Robert McDuff, says in the filing that there is a "real,
appreciable and non-speculative prospect" for an indictment of people
involved with the case in the federal Southern District of Mississippi.
He said he expects to know whether there will be an indictment within
two months.
McDuff said that if the BP suit continues while the
criminal investigation is underway, he would advise Watts not to testify
in depositions regarding the lawsuit.
Watts was appointed to
serve on a team of attorneys who negotiated a multibillion-dollar
settlement with BP in 2012 to compensate businesses, residents and
fishermen affected by the spill. He resigned from the committee last
year amid the federal investigation.
In a statement released late
Friday, BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Watts’ possible refusal to
answer questions in a deposition about "whether he committed a fraud on
BP and the Court in connection with seafood claims and their settlement
… is stunning."
The statement added that, "Until the full scope
of Mr. Watts’ fraud is understood, the Court should stay further
payments of Seafood Fund monies."
BP PLC’s December lawsuit alleges that many of the Social Security numbers on Watts’ client list were
McDuff has strongly denied that Watts engaged in fraud or identity theft.
to the allegations, Mr. Watts did not commit identity theft or fraud,"
McDuff said in a statement earlier this month. "He is a lawyer who has
spent his life representing the victims of corporate wrongdoing. He
devoted thousands of hours to uncovering the misdeeds of BP that led to
the oil spill that disrupted the lives of many thousands of people who
live in the region."
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