Well-known claims-fund administrator Ken Feinberg testified as the first witness for the prosecution at the criminal trial of San Antonio plaintiffs’ lawyer Mikal Watts.
Feinberg told jurors that he sought, but failed to receive, retainer agreements showing Watts and his firm represented the 25,000 to 40,000 BP oil spill claimants, which the firm had identified on a spreadsheet as being represented by it.
Feinberg, the managing partner of the Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg in Washington, D.C., testified in a Mississippi federal court room on July 20.
In that courtroom, Watts, along with six other defendants, including his brother David Watts, have denied and are battling allegations that they conspired to falsify claims against BP related to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Feinberg, who currently supervises the administration of claims arising from last month’s mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, previously supervised funds for claims related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Boston Marathon bombing, and also led the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. In 2010, that was established to help BP pay claims related to the oil spill.
Answering a prosecutor’s questions on re-direct, Feinberg testified that he explained to Watts and his employees that he needed more evidence showing formal relationship between their purported more than 40,000 clients. He testified he told them he needed the additional evidence because some of those purported clients had denied the relationship existed.
When Watts failed to provide client agreements, Feinberg testified that he told Watts he could not accept his claims and that he was “dubious” about them.
It is likely those same claimants were already being represented by a competing lawyer, Feinberg testified he told Watts.
Feinberg testified he found it “hard to believe” that there even existed some 40,000 of the type of claimants Watts said he represented—Vietnamese fisherman who make their living in the Gulf of Mexico.
Even before his staff members would begin reviewing the claims, he would need proof of the attorney-client relationship, Feinberg testified he told Watts.
He offered to speak further with Watts about his skepticism, Feinberg testified.
Out of Watts’ firm total inventory of some 40,000 claims, about 120 were paid by the oil spill fund he administered, Feinberg testified.
On cross examination, however, when Watts, who represents himself, asked the questions, Feinberg said that he agreed that he did not think the San Antonio lawyer was “a fraudster.”
And Feinberg also agreed that he had never heard one word from others that Watts would falsely submit claims to BP.