The federal judge overseeing litigation stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster has scheduled a November hearing for testimony concerning allegations of corruption within the multibillion-dollar settlement program set up to compensate victims of the 2010 oil spill.
In an order Friday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said he will hold a hearing Nov. 7 to consider objections to a report he commissioned last year.
Barbier appointed former FBI Director Louis Freeh to investigate the settlement program after one of its lawyers, Lionel Sutton III, resigned from the claims center amid allegations that he had received money from a law firm in exchange for fast-tracking the firm’s claims.
Barbier said the main question to be answered at the upcoming hearing is not whether Sutton received money, but whether he actually gave anything in return or simply did his job as he otherwise would have.
Barbier said in his order that he anticipates the hearing will take a day to complete.
Freeh’s first report in September 2013 found that key executives and senior lawyers on the settlement program’s staff engaged in improper, unethical and possibly criminal behavior, although it absolved the program’s administrator, Lafayette lawyer Patrick Juneau, of wrongdoing.
Sutton and his wife, Christine Reitano, both worked at the claims center. Freeh’s report recommended that the couple, as well as local lawyers Glen Lerner and Jon Andry, be prohibited from representing claimants in the settlement program and that a nearly $8 million claim submitted by the Andry Law Firm be rejected.
Freeh’s report said Lerner and Andry relied on Sutton to expedite that claim.
Sutton was paid more than $40,000 in referral fees for claims he referred to their law firm before joining the settlement program.
The 95-page report said the lawyers leaned on Sutton to “facilitate and expedite” their firm’s claims, though it did not find that Sutton or Reitano manipulated the value of claims during their time at the settlement program.
Reitano, in earlier court filings, has denied wrongdoing and blasted the report’s alleged bias. “Mr. Freeh made no effort at objectivity, and his report was obviously result-driven,” she wrote. “His investigation methods are unexplained and incomplete.”
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