JACKSON — Mississippi’s attorney general has sued the administrator of BP’s $20-billion oil spill fund to get access to claims filed by coastal residents.
Jim Hood said yesterday that he has tried to negotiate with the fund’s administrator, Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg. He says he’s seeking to make the process more transparent so people will know if Feinberg is looking out for the best interests of oil spill victims or BP.
Hood filed the lawsuit yesterday in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson. A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 15.
Feinberg said yesterday in a phone interview with The Associated Press that, “Our lawyers will respond in the ordinary course.” He had no other immediate comment.
Hood has previously said he believes Feinberg’s operation is intentionally delaying and denying legitimate claims, an allegation Feinberg has denied. Others have also criticized the size and pace of payments and a perceived lack of transparency.
Feinberg has said Hood could undermine the claims process by urging a court to intervene and by making allegations that border on defamation.
Hood said he believes if Feinberg would “open the books for Mississippi claims, we will find they have not treated our claims fairly.”
“If you don’t have anything to hide, show your hand,” Hood said.
Hood said he resorted to the lawsuit because his office’s attempts to get access to the documents on Mississippi claims failed. He did say BP and Feinberg have responded with some documents but not everything requested.
“He has provided very little transparency in this process,” Hood said at a news conference in his Jackson office. “All we want them to give us how they arrived at these (claim) figures. We have worked with him every way in the world. All they have done is delay.”
“All he has done is come down to our coast and tell us all these good things he was going to do and he hasn’t done them,” Hood said. “It is going to take a judge, I think, to require him to make disclosure.”
Hood said he expects BP to try to move the lawsuit to federal court in New Orleans, where other BP cases are being handled.
However, in the lawsuit, Hood said his investigation into the claims process falls under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act and of purview of the state courts.
“The attorney general has not made any determination as to the merits of a future enforcement action. Instead, the attorney general is performing his duty to investigate suspected violations of Mississippi law,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit in Hinds County is not the first court action Hood has filed over the handling of Mississippi claims.
Earlier this year, Hood asked a federal judge in Louisiana who is handling the BP multi-district litigation to take control of the claims process.
Eleven workers were killed on the April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. According to government estimates, some 206 million gallons of oil spewed from a well a mile beneath the sea.