BY: Simon Shifrin

BOISE, Idaho — BP squared off against a squad of lawyers representing thousands of victims suffering from the oil company’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill during today.

The two sides clashed before a panel of seven judges that will decide how and where to consolidate hundreds of lawsuits filed in the wake of the massive oil leak at the bottom of the ocean, triggered by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by BP on April 20.

The panel heard from 23 lawyers during an hour-and-a-half long hearing in federal court, and there was plenty of disagreement about how to combine the cases and which judges to pick or avoid.

BP wanted the panel to select Houston, corporate headquarters for the oil company and its corporate partners. The companies argued that the venue would provide better access to evidence and witnesses, while judges there would face fewer questions about ties to the oil industry.

Most of the plaintiff attorneys urged that the suits be heard in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi or Florida, the Gulf Coast states that have been hardest hit by the spill and that would least burden victims seeking justice.

“Houston would be the worst possible choice,” said attorney Robert Cunningham, who urged that the judges pick the federal court in Mobile, Ala. “It would be extremely inconvenient to litigants.”

The panel is expected to announce its decision in August.

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