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Bondi asks private lawyers for help with oil spill litigation

Friday, October 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a request for proposals from private lawyers for help in legal action related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In a press release issued late this afternoon, Bondi said the one-page RFP doesn’t mean the state is going to be suing BP or any of the other parties involved in the massive oil blow-out that stained Panhandle beaches and strained the entire state’s tourism industry last year.

“The proposal is part of an exploratory process that is non-binding and does not signify imminent litigation,” the release said.

Interested lawyers should show their experience in other similar cases, familiarity with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and how well-suited their firms are to handle complex, expensive litigation. Lawyers also have to say if they want to be paid hourly, by a contingency fee or a combination. Florida law has a sliding scale capping how much the attorney general can pay outside firms ranging from 25 percent for recoveries up to $10 million to 5 percent for settlements over $25 million.

Yesterday, Bondi gave the U.S. Justice Department guidelines on what she wants from an audit of BP claims czar Ken Feinberg, prompted by complaints about his handling of the $20 billion fund for victims of the oil spill.

Bondi asked that the audit look at:
- Discrepancies in payments to similarly situated claimants;
- Documentation required by Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility;
- Whether Feinberg’s delays in processing interim payments forced claimants to accept “quick pay,” or final settlements, which require them to sign away their right to sue in the future;
- How different industries are being treated;
- The extent to Feinberg relied on how close a claimant was to the oil spill to decide whether or how much a claimant deserved.

Two Delray Beach residents have been charged with bilking the GCCF of more than $340,000 and using the money to rent luxury homes and buy expensive cars and boats. The duo made their first appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Miami today in what the U.S. Attorney’s office is calling “the largest financial loss case brought to date arising from claims filed in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and pollution incident.”

Nelson rejects BP’s pitch

Monday, July 11th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson accused BP of trying to back away Monday from an earlier pledge to cover the cost of last summer’s Gulf oil spill.

Nelson wrote Ken Feinberg, who adminsters claims and the $20 billion BP fund created, saying the company should not be given early release from its obligation to pay damages stemming from the spill.

 BP last week filed a document with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility saying the company should not be required to pay claims for future compensation, because the region’s economy is recovering and fisheries have reopened.

Feinberg did not immediately respond to BP’s filing. But Nelson did.

“BP made a commitment.  People are still hurting.  And we don’t know what will happen in the future, plus there’s still claims in an appeals process and large claims that haven’t even been submitted yet,” Nelson said in his letter to the administrator.

 ”BP doesn’t need to be protected from the citizenry.  It’s the other way around,” he added.

Scott review of BP claims czar mixed

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Eight months after BP claims czar Ken Feinberg took over the $20 billion victim claim fund, reviews are mixed as to how the brash Boston lawyer is handling the process.

Gov. Rick Scott, in Destin to pitch tourism in the region hammered by last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast that sparked the nation’s worst oil spill in history, said he met with Feinberg last week while in Washington.

“The positive is he’s opened up more claims offices here and more feet on the ground and more people here talking to them. The negative is there’s a lot of people that still haven’t been paid,” Scott said standing outside the Lucky Snapper restaurant in Destin.

Feinberg, who’s paid out $3.8 billion to businesses and individuals in the Gulf States since taking over the Gulf Coast Claims Facility in August. That includes $1.5 billion to Florida victims.

Feinberg’s processed about 70 percent of the more than 500,000 claims filed. But many of those claims have yet to be paid.

Scott said he and Attorney General Pam Bondi set March 31 goals for Feinberg’s processing of Florida claims.

But nearly a month later, Scott couldn’t say whether Feinberg met his benchmarks.

“He’s given us how he thinks he’s doing,” Scott said .

Scott said he and Bondi’s staff are reviewing Feinberg’s results “to see what improvements he needs to make to make sure that we get everyone paid.”

Scott said he believes Feinberg is open to suggestions.

“He doesn’t want pressure from either attorney general or me. So what we’ve got to do is keep telling him what our needs are and just make sure he does the right thing,” Scott said.

The governor refrained from giving Feinberg a grade yet but promised “I’ll be telling him exactly how I think he’s doing.”

Did BP claims czar snub Senate Ag committee?

Monday, April 11th, 2011 by Dara Kam

BP claims czar Ken Feinberg didn’t show up at a Senate Agriculture Committee this afternoon, although he was scheduled (sort of) to be there.

Feinberg’s last appearance before state lawmakers was in March, when he took heat for continued complaints about delays paying Panhandle claims. Feinberg, in charge of BP’s $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility, also met then with Attorney General Pam Bondi and dined with Gov. Rick Scott at the mansion.

Senate Ag chairman Gary Siplin said he’s been e-mailing Feinberg for weeks trying to get him to testify but was unsuccessful.

Instead, Feinberg sent a letter, which Siplin had staff read into the record, saying he’s booked up and won’t be back in the Sunshine State until May.

Feinberg wrote that he is “not reluctant to visit Florida to discuss the ongoing efforts of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility” and pledged to meet with Siplin at his next meeting in Florida. But Siplin’s committee likely won’t meet again before the legislative session ends May 6.

“The bottom line is we do have subpoena power. I’m not saying we should resort to that but I think it’s crucial that we get him here,” Siplin, D-Orlando said.

Siplin’s staff suggested getting Feinberg to testify during a workshop for an interim report on the impact of last year’s BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

That’s not good enough for Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

“Frankly I found it insulting to you as the chairman of this committee that this man who’s supposed to be taking care of Floridians…cares no more about their welfare and the restoration of their good fortune than to snub this committee,” Hays said. “And not only that, he’s indicating his lack of concern…by not coming to the state until after April. What good is it going to do to subpoena somebody who doesn’t care?”

Meanwhile, BP officials and Gov. Rick Scott announced today the oil company is giving the seven Panhandle counties hardest hit by the oil spill $30 million for marketing as the region’s summer tourist season kicks up.

Scott, Bondi persuade BP claims czar to improve Florida cases

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

BP claims czar Ken Feinberg has agreed to improve Florida’s claims processing at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, Scott announced today.

The changes come after tens of thousands of Panhandle Floridians’ claims have languished for months while trying to seek compensation for the April 20th Deepwater Horizon blow-out.

Bondi and Scott met with Feinberg separately while the lawyer, whose firm earns $850,000 a month to manage the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, was in the Capitol to appear before a House committee.

Read the promised improvements after the jump.

(more…)

Asian-American hoteliers disrupt Feinberg hearing, walk out

Friday, February 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Shouting “He lies,” more than a dozen Asian-American hotel owners from Florida’s Gulf Coast walked out of a meeting this morning disrupting BP claims czar Ken Feinberg testimony before a critical House panel digging into his handling of the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

The group then stood outside the House Economic Affairs Committee meeting room and broke into the civil rights song “We Shall Overcome,” led by Art Rocker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with updated lyrics blasting Feinberg.

More than 85 percent of the 700 Asian-American hotel owners in Florida have not received any payments from Feinberg, forcing many of them on the brink of foreclosure, Pensacola hotelier Nash Patel said.

Nash and leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference met with Feinberg but have had no success in having their claims resolved despite promises from the lawyer whose firm earns $850,000 a month to administer the BP money.

Meanwhile, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has reported glowingly about Feinberg’s settling of its association members’ claims.

“We’re certainly not,” Patel said.

Without saying Feinberg was discriminating against them, Patel said the differences bear scrutiny.

“Is it because of who we are? We have to look at that,” he said.

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Scott to meet with BP claims czar

Thursday, February 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott will meet this afternoon with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg the day before the man with the $20 billion checkbook gets what is expected to be a grilling from a House committee.

Feinberg agreed to testify before the House Economic Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. Friday to field questions from disgruntled lawmakers unhappy with his handling of tens of thousands of Florida claims that have languished under his watch.

A federal judge recently ordered Feinberg, whose law firm earns $850,000 a month for administering the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, to quit saying he was independent of BP, the oil giant responsible in part for last year’s Deepwater Horizon massive oil disaster.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is among those calling for a White House investigation of Feinberg and the claims process after claimants complained that the money is being handed out inconsistently and they are unable to get answers about who got paid how much, if at all, and why.

Anticipating a huge turnout for tomorrow’s two-hour meeting, committee chairwoman Dorothy Hukill ordered members to submit their questions for Feinberg in writing to her by Wednesday.

Crist, Sink rally in Tally against offshore drilling

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink will lead a bipartisan rally today to support a constitutional ban on offshore drilling today.

Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, and Sink, a Democrat, will appear with lawmakers and others at an event at 12:30 on the steps of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee.

Crist called lawmakers in for a special session last year to pass a similar amendment to put on the November 2010 ballot, but they snubbed him. The legislature met briefly and adjourned without doing anything after Crist abandoned the GOP and became an independent to avoid a Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race, which he eventually lost to Marco Rubio.

Before leaving office in January, Sink struggled to get BP claims czar Ken Feinberg to improve his claims process after tens of thousands of Panhandle residents, and hundreds of Floridians throughout the state, complained about problems with his Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

That system remains troubled as Feinberg is set to begin making final payments to more than 500,000 applicants for damages caused by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Yesterday, senators discussed creating a state system for victims of BP’s massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to expedite the claims system.

Next Friday, Feinberg will appear before a House committee at the behest of House Speaker Dean Cannon. Hundreds of Panhandle officials and residents are expected to show up. Complaints about Feinberg’s payments from the $20 billion fund set up by BP include delays, an inability to find out where claims are in the process, and inconsistencies in who gets paid and how much.

A federal judge recently ruled that Feinberg is not independent of BP, as he contends, and ordered him to quit saying that he is.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is so fed up with Feinberg’s erratic claims system that on Monday he asked a federal judge to take it over “to facilitate the timely and just processing of claims.”

BP claims czar agrees to appear before House committee

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

BP claims czar Ken Feinberg will appear before the House Economic Affairs Committee on Feb. 18, his office confirmed to committee chairwoman Dorothy Hukill.

Hukill, R-Port Orange, and other lawmakers want Feinberg to explain why tens of thousands of Florida business owners, most of them in the Panhandle, are having so much trouble having their claims paid after the massive oil spill last spring created an economic catastrophe in the region.

Feinberg, in charge of the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility, has been the target of attack by numerous lawyer, lawmakers, Florida residents, and, most recently, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s demanding a White House investigation into Feinberg’s process.

Among the complaints: applicants are paid a fraction of what they believe they should receive, with no explanation; individuals are unable to speak with anyone directly about the details of their claims or where they are in the process; a seemingly willy-nilly approach to payment of claims that are nearly identical.

Feinberg insists he’s doing the best he can with the more than half million claims he’s received, and he continues to promise to improve his system.

The public can comment on Feinberg’s draft protocols, released last week, for handling interim and final payments by e-mailing: MethodologyComments@gccf-claims.com.

The methodology for determining eligibility and payment can be viewed here.

House Speaker orders investigation into oil spill claims system

Thursday, January 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon is asking his economic development committee to investigate reports of problems with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility payments to BP oil spill victims.

BP claims czar Ken Feinberg has paid out almost $1.2 billion to nearly 70,000 claimants.

But more than twice that many claims – about 157,000 – remain in the system.

“Recently, numerous breakdowns and inconsistencies within the claims process have been brought to my attention,” Cannon, R-Orlando, wrote to House Economic Affairs Committee Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill.

Sink to host BP claims workshop in Panama City

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s office is holding a workshop in Panama City tomorrow for Floridians wanting help getting their BP claims paid.

Sink’s staff will be at the Marina Civic Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will meet with individuals and business owners trying to get speedier payments – or any at all – from BP claims czar Ken Feinberg, in charge of doling out the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility fund.

Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor, has been critical of Feinberg’s claims process and took credit yesterday after the Boston lawyer decided to expand eligibility for claims payments to businesses located far away from where oil washed up on the beach.

She’s also launched a website where Floridians can share their horror tales about navigating the claims process.

BP claims czar backs off proximity to oil spill in paying claims

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

How close a business is to where oil actually washed up on the beach won’t be a factor in determining whether it is eligible to be paid for lost revenues, BP claims czar Ken Feinberg has decided.

Feinberg revamped the claims process after being pressured by a bipartisan coalition of Florida officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

Today, Kenneth Feinberg, Administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, announced that geographic proximity to the BP oil spill would not prevent a legitimate individual or business claim from being processed.

“I have heard from elected officials in Florida, including Governor Crist, Attorney General McCollum, CFO Sink and others, about their concerns regarding Floridians’ proximity to the spill and how, regardless of distance, there has been economic impact beyond the areas closest to the spill. After listening to these concerns, I have concluded that a geographic test to determine eligibility regarding economic harm due to the oil spill is unwarranted,” Feinberg said in the statement.

Claimants must “rove damages resulting from the spill itself and not other causes, but “physical proximity from the spill will not, in and of itself, bar the processing of legitimate claims,” he said.

His reversal on proximity is a victory for Florida hotel and restaurant owners, who hired a legal dream team to fight Feinberg and help businesses get their claims paid.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and state elected officials objected to Feinberg’s inclusion of proximity as a factor in paying claims. They said tourists stayed away from the Sunshine State because they had the perception that oil had contaminated areas of Florida even where it hadn’t.

Hotel and restaurant association to hold claims workshop in Panhandle Monday

Friday, October 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association will hold the first of 19 workshops on Monday in Pensacola for business owners struggling to get their claims paid by BP claims czar Ken Feinberg.

The association hired a legal dream team to negotiate with Feinberg, who balked at paying for damages to businesses not directly impacted by oil-stained beaches caused by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The lawyers will be at the Hilton Pensacola Gulf Front hotel from 10 a.m. to noon C.T. and will give an overview of the claims process and help assist business owners to figure out whether they are eligible for payments and, if so, how much. They’ll also provide individual assistance.

The FRLA recently won a concession – of sorts – from Feinberg. He said he’d take into consideration tourists’ perception that Florida’s beaches were tar-infested, even when they were not, and the overall damage to Florida’s tourism brand caused by the oil spill.

CFO Sink opens BP claims complaint website

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has setup a web site to let disgruntled Floridians vent about their problems getting paid by BP claims czar Ken Feinberg.

Her new website – www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaClaimsHelp/ – invites visitors to share their stories “if you’ve filed your claim and provided the documentation requested to the best of your ability but have not received a response or are getting the runaround.”

Feinberg, who took over the Gulf Coast Claims Facility on Aug. 23, this week promised larger, faster claims even as he tries to manage a backlog of more than 10,000 claims, many of them in Florida.

Sink and the Florida Cabinet are demanding that Feinberg speed up the payments and want them to show up at their next Cabinet meeting next month.

AG candidate Gelber joins chorus pushing for broader BP claims payments

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Add state Sen. Dan Gelber, the Democrat candidate for attorney general, to the list of pols criticizing BP claims czar Ken Feinberg for his handling of payments to Floridians harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Gelber, a former federal prosecutor from Miami Beach, sent a letter to Feinberg asking him to include the costs of preparing claims to payments to individuals and businesses. Feinberg said he won’t pay for legal or accounting fees associated with the filings.

“Citizens of our state are rightfully frustrated. They see promises from BP actors in commercials suggesting the company is prepared to do the right thing. Yet on the ground, they see obfuscation, and a process that is filled with more chutes than ladders,” Gelber wrote.

Gelber also joined Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor; Gov. Charlie Crist, the independent candidate for U.S. Senate; and Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Republican who lost the primary bid for governor, in demanding that Feinberg pay damages to those located where oil never reached the shore. Feinberg’s consideration of proximity to the oil spill in paying claims has been a major issue of contention since he took over BP’s botched claims process on Aug. 23.

Sink and the Florida Cabinet slammed Feinberg yesterday and Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, a member of a statewide task force looking into the economic damages caused by the disaster, gave Feinberg just a few weeks to speed up payments to businesses on the brink of bankruptcy in Northwest Florida.

Sink, Florida Cabinet fed up with BP claims czar Feinberg

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink used an update this morning on Florida’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to blast BP claims czar Ken Feinberg for paying too little, too late to Panhandle businesses and causing at least one company to close its doors.

“I’m kind of of the mind set that enough is enough,” Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor, said at this morning’s Cabinet meeting. “I don’t know about you all but I’m sick and tired of this. These desperate people through no fault of their own having to shut their business down? That’s horrendous!”

Sink said the owners of Harmony Beach Vacations in Destin sent her an e-mail yesterday telling her they were going out of business because their claim for lost revenues has languished under both BP and Feinberg, who took over the oil giant’s maligned claims process for individuals and businesses on Aug. 23.

(more…)

BP claims czar ‘making amends,’ won’t hire more adjusters

Friday, September 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Ken Feinberg, in charge of doling out billions of dollars in claims to victims of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, said he won’t hire more adjusters to speed up the process but acknowledged his system is not without problems.

“It is true that we’re not moving as fast as we should,” Feinberg said.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Gov. Charlie Crist this week asked Feinberg to appear before them at the next Cabinet meeting to explain why so many Panhandle business owners haven’t seen a dime since Feinberg took over BP’s maligned claims system on Aug. 23.

“We can do better. The criticism of the governor and Sink justifiable. But we’re making amends. And we’re improving the system,” Feinberg said.

Crist and Sink also demanded that he immediately hire more adjusters to help speed up the process.

“I don’t need to hire more people. It’s not a resource issue. It’s an internal ability of us to process claims as fast as we can. Simply throwing more people at the problem won’t solve it,” Feinberg said.

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Crist and Sink send bold letter to BP claims czar, ask for Cabinet appearance

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink want BP claims czar Ken Feinberg to appear before the Florida Cabinet and explain why his revamped claims process is in such a mess.

In a letter sent today, Sink, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Crist, the independent candidate in the three-way race for U.S. Senate, also asked Feinberg to immediately hire more people and spend more resources processing claims.

“Floridians continue to tell us that they cannot get their claims paid in a timely fashion,” Sink and Crist wrote. “Many Floridians who have been impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill need immediate relief just to make their next mortgage payment or make their next payroll.”

Feinberg met today with Attorney General Bill McCollum, who said afterward that he was “cautiously optimistic” that Feinberg would tweak his claims process to make it more Florida-friendly for folks trying to get tourism-related losses paid.

Claimants have complained that Feinberg, in charge of doling out much of the $20 billion Gulf Coast Claims Facility fund set up by BP, has reneged on his earlier promise to pay individuals 48 within hours and businesses within a week of receiving their claim.

At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Sink read an e-mail Pensacola business owner Jeff Elbert, also head of the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, who said that he doesn’t know of a single beach business that’s been paid since Feinberg took over BP’s botched claims process on Aug. 23.

McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czar

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said he is “cautiously optimistic” after an hour-and-a-half long meeting with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in the Capitol this morning.

Claimants throughout the Gulf Coast have complained that little has changed since Feinberg, appointed by the White House and BP to dole out $20 billion the oil giant is putting into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, took over BP’s much-maligned claims process more than three weeks ago.

McCollum has repeatedly criticized Feinberg’s system, still in development even after he has written more than $40 million in checks to Floridians for losses caused by BP’s April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast and ensuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Feinberg’s paid an average of $7,195 in emergency payments to nearly 5,600 Floridians since taking over on Aug. 23.

One of the most contentious issues facing Florida thus far has been Feinberg’s emphasis on “proximity” to the oil spill in determining eligibility for claims and questions about whether perceptions about Florida’s beaches being oily (even when they were not) contributed to a drop in tourism that affected hotels, restaurants and state tax collections.

(more…)

Sink (and Crist) bold move over languishing oil spill claims: Write a letter!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

After hearing that not a single business on Pensacola Beach has received a dime from BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in nearly a month, Chief Financial Officer proposed sending (another) letter to Feinberg urging him to get on it.

“This is just not right,” Sink, the Democrat running for governor against Republican Rick Scott, said before the Cabinet heard an update on the oil spill at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

Sink suggested ordering Feinberg to show up at the next Cabinet meeting to explain why he hasn’t followed through on his earlier pledge to quickly process claims to help out Panhandle residents whose businesses have floundered since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon disaster. Or, she said, the Cabinet could write a letter to Feinberg urging him to take action. Sink has made repeated requests in writing to Feinberg, BP officials and others demanding they speed up payments to floundering businesses in the Panhandle threatening to shut down because of the spill.

Gov. Charlie Crist agreed to sign on to Sink’s letter to try to get some help to Floridians, especially those in the Panhandle.

“It’s become increasingly difficult for them to be able to hang on,” Crist, the independent candidate in the three-way race for U.S. Senate said.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose office has been out front dealing with Feinberg and BP throughout response to the disaster, is supposed to meet with Feinberg this week. McCollum was in Pensacola attending the federal hearing on his lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration over health care reforms.

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