The $7.8 million that the Jefferson Parish School Board paid in attorney’s fees after securing a $32.7 million settlement from BP over 2010 oil spill damage claims has caused the latest disagreement among board members.
In a memo to his colleagues Friday, School Board President Cedric Floyd said he wasn’t sure that amount of money complied with Louisiana bar rules outlining “reasonable” rates for lawyers.
But on Tuesday, Mike Fanning, an attorney with one of the law firms involved in the School Board’s litigation against BP, said both the state Attorney General’s Office and Floyd himself approved the arrangement that resulted in the legal fees associated with the case.
And board member Mark Morgan — who also is Gretna’s city attorney — said the lawyers who represented the school district against BP earned the fees they received because they took the case on contingency, meaning they would get paid only if they won money for their client.
“If we had gone to trial and lost, the attorneys would’ve done a lot of work for no money,” Morgan said. “Cedric is trying to change our original agreement with them.”
Two law firms represented the School Board in its lawsuit against BP: Grant & Barrow, which has represented Jefferson schools for decades, and Cossich, Summich, Parsiola & Taylor.
Once the School Board secured its settlement from the case, each law firm collected about $3.9 million in legal fees, according to emails between Floyd and one of the attorneys on the case, Phil Cossich.
The $7.8 million in total legal fees was in line with what other local agencies that sued the oil company over the spill have paid their attorneys: close to 25 percent of whatever the final settlement was.
Yet Floyd said he was alarmed the payout to the attorneys was so hefty because, among other reasons, the School Board paid Grant & Barrow $577,345 in 2014. He said the firm was on pace to earn about the same amount this year without counting the BP check.
“I want to know how much did they do for the fees they got?” Floyd said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t think it’s reasonable.”
Floyd in his memo Friday accused Fanning, who works for Grant & Barrow, of being reluctant to disclose how much money his firm would receive from the settlement. Floyd said he needed to email Cossich, who works for the other firm involved in the BP litigation, to learn how the legal fees would be split up.
In a statement Tuesday, Fanning suggested the information Floyd sought was easily verifiable.
Floyd in 2011 voted in favor of having Grant & Barrow and the Cossich firm represent the School Board in a lawsuit against BP.
“After the contract was awarded, the Louisiana attorney general approved the contract,” Fanning said. “Mr. Floyd signed off on the distribution (of the settlement), which clearly states that our firm would receive (50) percent of the total (legal fees).”