The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

June 21, 2013

Lawyer working on BP settlement claims suspended

ATHENS — NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A lawyer working for the court-appointed administrator reviewing claims arising from BP's Gulf oil spill has been accused of collecting portions of settlement payments from a New Orleans law firm to which he had once referred claims, a BP official with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.

The BP official, who has reviewed a report outlining the allegations, said claims administrator Patrick Juneau delivered a copy of the report to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier during a meeting in his chambers Thursday. Lawyers for BP and the team of private attorneys who brokered the multibillion-dollar settlement also attended the meeting. The BP official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report hasn't been made public.

The staff lawyer, Lionel H. Sutton III, acknowledged in an email late Thursday that he has been told he was suspended "pending an investigation of an anonymous allegation against me."

"I have not been made aware of the substance of the allegation or the status of the investigation," Sutton wrote. "Once this is resolved, I would be happy to discuss it all with you."

The BP official said the report indicates that Juneau's s security head, David Welker, also notified the FBI's New Orleans division about the lawyer's alleged misconduct. Welker until recently was the special agent in charge of the FBI office in New Orleans.

An FBI spokeswoman in New Orleans declined to comment Thursday.

According to the BP official, Juneau told the judge that he had suspended the lawyer and was weighing further disciplinary action. Neither Juneau nor his spokesman responded to calls and emails on Thursday night.

The report says the head of security for Juneau's office received a complaint that the staff attorney had referred claims to a New Orleans law firm in exchange for portions of subsequent settlement payments, the BP official said. The lawyer allegedly filed those claims before he went to work for Juneau.

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