Council approves using Fla. firm for BP suit

A Florida-based law firm got the Metro Council’s approval Wednesday to continue to pursue its lawsuit on Baton Rouge’s behalf against oil and gas giant BP.

The council voted 9-1 to approve the contract with Farrell and Patel after the firm addressed the council’s concerns by reducing its fees and reaching out for the assistance of local attorneys.

Randy Piedrahita, an attorney with Due, Price, Guidry, Piedrahita & Andrews, said his firm is now working with Farrell and Patel to represent the city.

“Together we have addressed some very significant concerns you had about the excessiveness of the fee,” he said.

Piedrahita called the concerns “very valid” and said the firms had agreed on a 20 percent contingency fee. That’s half the original proposed contingency fee of 40 percent.

Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards cast the sole vote against the motion to approve the contract with Farrell and Patel. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis abstained and Councilman Chandler Loupe was absent from the meeting.

The contract has come under fire by some council members because it was signed in January by the mayor’s top aide without being vetted by the Parish A ttorney’s Office and before it could be approved by the Metro Council — which is normal protocol.

William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, said he signed it because the city-parish was about to miss a filing deadline, that would have otherwise prevented it from seeking a claim related to lost tax revenue stemming from the 2010 oil leak.

Daniel said that he does not typically sign contracts without council approval, but was faced with the possibility of missing out on recovery funds.

“We needed something to move forward with,” he said. “I don’t think I put the city-parish at risk of anything, but if I had not moved forward, I put us at risk of not recovering anything.”

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.

The vote was expected to be deferred, because Loupe — who has expressed public concerns with the contract — requested that the item be moved to the June meeting since he’s out of town this week.

After Daniel placed the item to approve the contract on this week’s agenda, Loupe sent an email requesting the item be moved to the next meeting so he could be present.

Daniel requested Wednesday that the council defer the item at Loupe’s request. However, the council opted to vote on the item in his absence.

Loupe is currently out of the country.

“I would never have put it on here against Chandler’s wishes,” Daniel said, adding that he consulted with Loupe in January before he signed the contract to begin with and Loupe had been supportive.

Councilman John Delgado, who pushed for the item to be heard Wednesday, said the firm was up against more deadlines to file motions on behalf of the city-parish.

Delgado initially said he had concerns that the city-parish did not use a local firm, but felt its use of Piedrahita’s firm satisfied that issue.