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Sep 6, 2013

By: Keith Jones, Contributing Op-Ed Columnist, NOLA.com

To view at NOLA.com:

As an attorney, I am dismayed to see the ease with which many in the media have blindly bought into BP's latest round of misleading advertisements and take its propaganda for gospel. The facts are simple. BP wrote and agreed to the settlement -- including all the portions it now whines and complains about -- in an effort to buy peace and bring closure to its investors. Company officials just did bad math when they tried to figure out how much the deal would cost.

All of the compensation formulas are objective and transparent -- and are all interpreted the same way by the independent accountants that BP chose, the independent claims administrator that BP chose and by the federal judge overseeing the litigation.

It is not surprising to see that BP is trying to blame everyone but itself -- trial lawyers, independent accountants, the independent claims administrator and even the judge overseeing the litigation -- for the situation it is in. Let's not forget that if BP cared about drilling safely as much as it cared about its bottom line, we wouldn't be here in the first place.

As a Louisianian, I am troubled to see the casual dismissiveness with which people on Wall Street and in London boardrooms view the Gulf's plight. They've seen from afar the repeated tragedies we have been forced to endure and somehow think we should be used to it by now. But this was not a storm. It was not an act of God. It was the result of BP's callous indifference to our workers, our environment and our economy.

It's as though BP is now trying to use our resilience against us and pervert it into passivity. It seems that BP expects our community to sit idly by while the company shamelessly attempts to intimidate the people and businesses of the Gulf out of filing claims they have every right to make.

And as a father? As a father, I am as hurt as I am furious. My son Gordon was among the 11 men -- the 11 hardworking fathers and sons, husbands and brothers -- killed on board the Deepwater Horizon. To me, BP's recent public posture is hardly surprising. For three years I've been forced to watch the false care in their advertisements, all the while knowing that no one at BP had the common decency to send their condolences for my son's death. No call. No letter. No simple "I'm sorry." To BP, Gordon's death was just a cost of doing business in the Gulf.

BP wants you to forget the pain it caused and the havoc it wreaked on our region. To somehow believe that it is now the victim. To bury the truth under a mountain of glossy ads. To not remember that BP was already a convicted felon responsible for 15 deaths at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP would have everyone forget that by negotiating this settlement, it was able to avoid the biggest threat it faced from these claims: the risk that the court would award punitive damages to the plaintiffs if they went to trial (BP could still be liable to non-settling plaintiffs if the court rules it acted with gross negligence). When corporations behave as recklessly as BP, punitive damages can be assessed to punish them for their conduct. It is akin to sending a corporation to prison. This settlement essentially afforded BP the opportunity to avoid jail time.

BP also would have everyone forget that it leveraged this settlement to negotiate reduced criminal fines and penalties, which included pleading guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter.

It's a troubling pattern for a recidivist criminal, a plot so twisted even John Grisham couldn't dream it up.

BP has repeatedly professed that it is committed to "make things right." It is up to all of us to hold the company accountable for what it has done.

If we do not hold BP to its word, this corporate felon will have no incentive to change its ways; it will not be a question of whether there will be another disaster, but when.

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