According to this AP article, less than half the federal judges in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are eligible to preside over oil spill cases due to connections with the oil industry. The article relies on 2008 disclosure forms.
The article states:
Thirty-seven of the 64 active or senior judges in key Gulf Coast districts in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have links to oil, gas and related energy industries, including some who own stocks or bonds in BP PLC, Halliburton or Transocean — and others who regularly list receiving royalties from oil and gas production wells, according to the reports judges must file each year. The AP reviewed 2008 disclosure forms, the most recent available.
Of course, smart judges who owned stock in BP, Haliburton or Transocean at the time of the spill sold their stock soon after the spill.
The story states:
The AP review of disclosure statements shows the oil and gas industry’s roots run as deep in the Gulf Coast’s judiciary as they do in the region’s economy.
This may be painting with too broad of a brush. I suspect that many judges in other parts of the country also own or owned stock in these companies. They are all leading companies in their industry and are common investments in the energy sector. There is a good chance that anyone who holds individual stocks in their brokerage or retirement accounts owned stock in at least one of these companies.
Similar conflicts recently caused the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss an appeal, as discussed in this post. So this issue will be in play at both the trial and appellate court levels.
Some attorneys (presumably plaintiff’s attorneys) want to bring a New York Judge to Louisiana to preside over the case:
Some attorneys have come up with an unusual assertion: import a New York federal judge with a strong background in environmental lawsuits to Louisiana to preside over the cases.
They are recommending that the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation appoint U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin. Scheindlin presided over settlement of some 200 lawsuits brought against BP and other oil companies over a toxic additive called MTBE that contaminated drinking supplies nationally — and she has no oil and gas investments, according to her financial disclosure forms.
Sounds like the makings of My Cousin Vinnie 2. It’s twenty years later and Vinnie is now a federal judge who returns to the Deep South to preside over the cases involving the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.