EBR council members questioning BP lawsuit contract

Mayor pro tem wants pact with law firm in BP lawsuit canceled

The Metro Council is considering canceling a contract that Mayor-President Kip Holden’s top aide signed with a Florida law firm to represent Baton Rouge in a lawsuit against oil and gas giant BP.

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, who serves as the council’s chairman, has asked the council to consider canceling the contract with the Coral Gables-based Farrell and Patel law firm at a council meeting on June 12.

“It was never approved by the Metro Council, it was never put out for bid,” Loupe said. “And a 40 percent contingency fee is very alarming.”

A Baton Rouge attorney, Randy Piedrahita, said his firm is now working with Farrell and Patel, and that the 40 percent contingency fee in the contract is “off the table.”He said a lower fee, not to exceed 25 percent, would be proposed.

The Farrell and Patel firm entered into an agreement with the city-parish in January to represent Baton Rouge in pursuing damage claims against BP stemming from the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

The firm filed a 76-page lawsuit on the city’s behalf on April 19 seeking more than $35 million in compensation for “past, present and future losses,” including lost tax revenue from fewer tourists visiting Louisiana’s capital city.

However, the contract, signed by Holden’s chief administrative officer, William Daniel, was never vetted by the Parish Attorney’s Office or approved by the Metro Council. Those procedures are ordinarily followed in city-parish contracts.

The contract with Farrell and Patel says the firm will handle the case on a contingency fee basis and take 40 percent of the city-parish’s settlement as its compensation. Some local attorneys have criticized that fee as excessive, as have Loupe and some other council members.

Daniel, said he hurriedly signed the contract with the firm on Jan. 18 to meet a claims filing deadline of Jan. 20. But he said the firm agreed verbally that the terms were “nonbinding” and that the contract was contingent on the Metro Council’s approval.

However, three months later, the mayor’s office has yet to submit the contract to the council for its approval.

Piedrahita, acknowledged that the contract still needed to be ratified by the council.

“Forty percent is off the table,” Piedrahata said of the controversial contingency fee. “We will ensure the fee is competitive with other similarly situated cases — not to exceed 25 percent.”

But Loupe said that wouldn’t change his mind about canceling the contract.

“Many firms are doing this for as low as 10 percent,” he said.

Loupe said neither he nor the Mayor’s Office had input on Farrell and Patel’s decision to seek assistance from Piedrahita’s firm, DuĂ©, Price, Guidry, Piedrahita & Andrews.

Loupe said he’s not sure yet how the city-parish should proceed with its litigation, if the council decides to cancel its contract with Farrell and Patel.

But since the suit has already been filed, the city-parish could potentially hire another firm, or direct in-house attorneys to represent it for the duration of the litigation.

“We have many options which will be more cost effective,” he said.

Daniel declined comment because he said he had not yet seen Loupe’s proposal.