THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Legal Team Named for Possible Suit in Oil Disaster

May 10, 2010

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published the following on May 10, 2010:


Florida officials established a legal team Monday to advise the state on recovering costs stemming from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, a possible prelude to a federal lawsuit.

Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum said former Florida attorneys general Jim Smith and Bob Butterworth have volunteered to lead the panel, which will help gauge state costs associated with cleanup attempts already hurting the state’s tourism and fishing industries.

“I couldn’t think of better people to serve in this role, to pick a great legal team to represent Florida, to fight for Florida and look out for our interests and to make sure Florida is protected, first and foremost,” Crist said.

McCollum said the team was “needed to advise all of us…should litigation have to ensue.”

McCollum said the state has been satisfied with BP’s response, saying “their attitude has been a very open door.” He said the company has promised to pay private claims for damages or lost business, along with whatever public costs are incurred from the disaster. McCollum said BP officials have pledged to “err on the side of granting the claim.”

Crist, however, cautioned that the $25 million already pledged to the state by BP was expected soon to be completely spent. Crist said he hoped that a lawsuit wouldn’t be needed, “But we have to be prepared,” he added.

Crist said he had spoken with BP officials and told them, “I had been out to the Panhandle this weekend and that we were going to need more help.”

Crist also said that he had spoken with Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, about calling a special session in response to the Gulf disaster. Crist apparently has come around to support a push first advanced by legislative Democrats, who say a constitutional amendment is needed to ban offshore oil-drilling in Florida waters.

A two-decade-old state law bans nearshore oil-exploration. But Crist, a no-party candidate for U.S. Senate, is moving closer to embracing the demand that a constitutional prohibition is now needed.

Crist said his talk with Atwater centered on the timing of a session, intended to get a proposed amendment on the November ballot. Crist said a decision could be reached this week.