Academics back BP's fight to cap oil spill payouts

Fri May 24, 2013 6:11am EDT
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By Andrew Callus

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of accountancy professors is backing BP's (BP.L: Quote) fight to cap the U.S. oil spill compensation payouts it has to fund as the cash outflow threatens to add billions of dollars to its bill for the disaster.

The news comes after the payouts administrator, Patrick Juneau, predicted that over 200,000 claims may be made in total by businesses and individuals under a settlement BP agreed last year - a level that could result in a charge against the oil company's profits as early as next year.

BP (BP.N: Quote) has said some of the claims Juneau, a Louisiana lawyer, is approving for the 2010 oil spill are "fictitious" and "absurd".

The 12 academics are represented by Paul Clement, one of the best-known lawyers in the United States. Clement was solicitor general under President George W. Bush, and is seen as a potential candidate to fill a Supreme Court vacancy if a Republican becomes president in 2017.

The expert group includes Andrew Bailey, former deputy chief accountant at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the national financial markets regulator, now of the University of Illinois.

In a court document filed on May 10, ahead of BP's one-day appeal hearing due on July 8, the professors said their motivation was to ensure that accounting terms and principles were "properly construed and applied" when relied upon in judicial decisions.

They filed the document as a "Brief of Amici Curiae" - which means "friends of the court". Under U.S. law, these are filed by parties who have an interest in the outcome of a case, but have no declared connection to either side.

In April BP lost its battle to convince Carl Barbier, the judge presiding over a complex set of legal proceedings in a New Orleans federal court, that the terms of the compensation settlement it reached in April 2012 are being misinterpreted by Juneau.   Continued...

A BP logo is seen at a petrol station in London May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth