A federal court grand jury in Mississippi indicted Texas lawyer Mikal Watts for conduct related to the BP oil spill litigation.Watts is familiar to Mississippi lawyers who worked on the silica MDL in Corpus Christi back in the early 2000’s.
From the My San Antonia article:
The charges stem from allegations that Watts fraudulently bolstered the number of clients he had with claims against BP to get a seat on a steering committee, an elite group of lawyers appointed to manage the plaintiff’s side of the litigation.
Lawyers on such committees typically reap a financial bonanza for their efforts. Watts helped negotiate a $2.3 billion settlement against BP, a chunk of that for fishermen and deckhands that he purported to represent.
At one point, Watts claimed to represent more than 44,000 clients.
The indictment has not been unsealed. Watts is scheduled to appear in court next week and the indictment will presumably be unsealed at that time. Jackson attorney Rob McDuff represents Watts.
Here is my 2010 post on the BP steering committee and here is the order appointing the steering committee. As I pointed out in 2010, the steering committee was dominated by large national plaintiff law firms.
This is not unique to the BP litigation. The evolution of multi-district litigation has turned big time plaintiff litigation into an oligarchy. It’s very difficult to get a seat at that table. It’s a club. A small club. You aren’t invited. I suspect wheels have been greased to gain admittance. Read the applications to get appointed to the steering committees and you will see that there is a lot of puffing. So these allegations are not surprising.
This is not the federal judiciary’s best work, which is largely responsible for creating the problem by appointing the same lawyers and firms to steering committees over and over.
It also ties into the decline of litigation in Mississippi that I’ve written about in posts under the Tort Reform Topic.
And I could make a case that it’s had a bigger adverse impact on defense lawyers in Mississippi than plaintiff lawyers.
I will post the Watts indictment once it is unsealed.