Environmental lawyer, advocate for working Americans, and host of Ring of Fire , Mike Papantonio and his firm have handled thousands of cases throughout the nation, including asbestos, breast implants, pharmaceutical litigation, factory farming, securities fraud, the Florida tobacco litigation, etc., and has received numerous multi-million dollar verdicts.
Recently, he has been making frequent appearances on The Ed Show and Hardball to discuss the ramifications and implications of British Petroleum's oil spill, in an effort to hold BP accountable for the damage that they have caused to the environment and persons, as well as to expose the lies that BP continues to feed the news media.
Kathleen Wells:You filed a class action lawsuit against BP. Talk to me about that suit, and differentiate it from the trust fund.
Mike Papantonio:I think the most important thing is: We filed a RICO case. The RICO case is much different from anything on the table. The RICO case says that the conduct of BP, Halliburton, and Transocean is really not just negligence, but it's something that -- it's the same kind of suit you would use to go after the mob or a drug cartel or organized crime.
It's a civil RICO case. It isn't unique to Florida, but Florida has the most progressive certainly the most far-reaching civil RICO case in the country. That's the case that I'm focusing on primarily.
Kathleen Wells:Now you are talking about the federal lawsuit that you filed recently in Pensacola. And you are alleging that the Bush administration relaxed federal regulatory oversight, etc.
Mike Papantonio:Yes. Because that's far different than anything that the trust fund is going to be looking at. It's not a typical OPA kind of case or typical class action. The other thing it does, because of the unique aspects of RICO, is that it allows you to ask for damages that are different from the typical kinds of damages.
For example, here, if you have a property owner in Florida and they own a home/a set of condos, there is nothing that allows, in the OPA claim, diminution of value. You can't say these people have lost their value (It has been reduced 30 percent) because of this event.
Under this [RICO] statute, under the way that we brought the case, we then can ask for that. We can say that we have people in certain counties here that are heavily tourist areas. They are heavily reliant on the beach crowd, and because of that, the value of the property has gone down. The numbers are already fairly substantial.
That's the damages that would flow from the RICO case. Now, any other damages as well can flow, but that's the thing I'm focusing on.
Kathleen Wells:OK, so differentiate this from the trust fund. Why would a person come to you as opposed to filing a claim to recover via the trust fund?
Mike Papantonio:They wouldn't. I really think most people, the typical person that has a claim that charters a boat or a fishing business it doesn't make sense that they should first go out and hire an attorney if the damages are fairly easy to compute. If you've got somebody that's been in the fishing business for ten years and they can say: "Well, here's my history. I don't have all the documents, but I can tell you, historically, I've been able to generate $250K in the eight or seven months, and now I can't do that." Why should you pay an attorney for that?
It's different when you are talking about something as sophisticated as a taxing authority or a municipality or a hotel. You don't just prance in and say: "Mr. Feinberg*, give me $8 million." So those are the cases the more complex cases that I'm going to be handling.
If someone goes in and says, "I can't quite articulate the amount of money that I've lost," Feinberg isn't saying you can't have a lawyer; he is saying we are going to try and build it so that you don't need one. It makes perfect sense.
Kathleen Wells:What is the likelihood of this $20-billion trust fund being sufficient to cover everyone's damages?
Mike Papantanio:It's not even close. Look, our experts tell us that the best analysis for BP -- we are talking between $60-80 billion, which sounds like a lot of money, but in the big picture, this is a $115-billion company. They are way undervalued marketwise. They have staying power because they have assets that are the perennial kind of sources of money. They are always going to be there.