As expected, Texas lawyer Mikal Watts and others were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges for fraud related to alleged shenanigans in the BP Oil Spill litigation. Here is the Indictment.
Essentially, the indictment alleges that Watts and his confederates did a bunch of sleazy stuff to jack up their take in the BP litigation. Think: going through the phone book and writing down everyone’s names and claiming to represent them. Purported clients included dogs and dead people.
Apparently an unnamed Jackson attorney was involved. Sounds like he is cooperating since he wasn’t named in the indictment. I talked to someone who has a good theory on who it is, but we’ll have to wait and see if he’s right.
Watts took the unusual step of issuing his own press release via his attorney (Rob McDuff) following the unsealing of the indictment. Here it is: Watts’ response to indictment.
Watts claims to be a serious lawyer whose work on the oil spill litigation was significant and legitimate.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Dowdy and Jerry Rushing are prosecuting the case.
That’s going to be a tough out for McDuff. Dowdy has been in the U.S. Attorney’s office for 25-plus years and has lost maybe one trial. I have a lot of respect for both and will have to view some of the trial if it makes it that far.
I read the indictment from my perspective as a lawyer. My most prominent thought is: Jesus, is that what the big dogs in MDL cases really do? And the same ones get appointed to steering committees repeatedly? Good lord. A better precedent would be to never appoint the same lawyer to a steering committee twice.
The big question at this point is whether Watts is posturing for a better deal or seriously planning to go to trial. Either is possible.
If he goes to trial, he should use some of his millions to conduct a bunch of focus groups. One possible interpretation of his defense is that a lot of sleazy stuff goes on in mass tort cases, but you can’t pin it on the lawyers. I don’t know how that would play. I know I wouldn’t want to bet my freedom on finding out without doing a bunch of testing before-hand.
Can you really get in bed with a bunch of sleaze balls and walk by claiming you were duped too? Rumor is it’s worked before in mass tort, so we’ll have to see.