Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has deputized two private law firms to allow them to assist the state in its lawsuit against BP stemming from lost tax revenue and other expenses incurred during the2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he confirmed in a phone interview with AL.com.
Strange said the two firms that were deputized -- Beasley Allen in Montgomery and Cunningham Bounds in Mobile -- had not been hired by the state, but received the designation in case they needed to appear in court on behalf of the state.
"We, as a state, have not paid any outside legal fees in this case, and we don't expect to," Strange said. "This is an important issue for me personally and for the state to get the strongest team available at the best price for taxpayers."
Both firms have worked extensively on oil spill claims since the accident and both have lawyers on the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee.
"It's not the same as hiring someone, but it allows you to appear if you need to," Strange said. "If we needed to use Cunningham Bounds for example -- they're already up to speed, they've already tried the first three phases of the case -- we wouldn't be subject to a challenge by BP."
Strange said Beasley Allen has been contracted by Gov. Robert Bentley's office to help determine the costs incurred by the state during the spill, but the firm's pay would have to come from legal fees added to the potential award determined by the court.
When Strange took office in 2011, Beasley Allen had been hired by previous Attorney General Troy King's office on a contingency fee basis that would have paid the firm a percentage of any award. The law journal Legal Newsline reports that the contingency fee would have been 14 percent of any award received by the state. Strange said he decided to change course and take on the work in-house as a more cost-effective strategy. He said he believes Louisiana, which has hired outside firms to work on its case, has paid up to $25 million in outside legal fees.
"I feel like it's been a huge savings to the taxpayer to do it the way we have and it puts us first in line for our trial, so I think we've gotten a good result for our expenses," he said.
Alabama will be the first state to try its case against BP for economic damages caused by the spill. The case is expected to go to court in 2016. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier granted Alabama's request for a jury trial, but has not yet ruled on a motion by the state for the trial to be held in Montgomery instead of New Orleans.
"I feel pretty good about our ability to get it moved to Montgomery and have our jury trial there," Strange said.