Legal Briefing: Transocean's Slippery Gulf Oil-Spill Maneuvers

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Transocean's Slimy Moves

Transocean (RIG), one of the three companies involved in the Gulf oil disaster, is revealing itself as the stereotype of corporate evil. First came reports that the company pressured exhausted and traumatized rig evacuees into signing statements asserting the evacuees hadn't seen anything and hadn't been hurt. Transocean denies pressuring the employees into signing the statements, but they speak for themselves.

Next, Transocean goes on the lawsuit offensive, allegedly gaming the legal system to slow things down and gain control of all the pending litigation. Those strategic advantages are apparently what's behind Transocean's effort to use a 1851 statute to limit its liability to the salvage value of its rig, a mere $26.7 million, according to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Bloomberg adds that the move is also an attempt to strengthen Transocean's settlement position. While the liability limitation reportedly won't stick, the strategic advantages result simply by starting the ancient process. Finally, Transocean hires its first set of lobbyists to try to get Congress on its side.

Corporate Charm Offensive vs. Doing the Right Thing

Both Wal-Mart (WMT) and Goldman Sachs (GS) have recently garnered headlines for do-gooding that I suppose is meant to persuade us to forget the reasons people think poorly of the companies. Wal-Mart, which as been sued for or settled virtually every type of not-paying-workers properly claim, announced it would donate $2 billion in cash and food to help fight hunger over the next five years.

While the donation's laudable and sorely needed, I wonder if Wal-Mart could have a bigger impact on hunger in America simply by paying living wages to its 2.1 million employees, not forcing anyone to work off the clock, paying back wages when due, paying and promoting women equally with men -- all charges either pending or settled by the retailer already. Doing the right thing in these situations would run a lot more than $2 billion over five years.

Goldman Sachs's image-burnishing attempt is an effort to save a Chicago bank that lends to poor people. Shore Bank is facing seizure by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation if it doesn't come up with $125 million. Goldman has committed $20 million and is working the phones to raise the rest.

Again, a good thing on its own terms. But if Goldman and those in its rolodex hadn't done so much damage to the financial system in the first place, Shore Bank probably wouldn't have needed the bailout. Big bailed-out banks bailing out a little one -- a new version of trickle-down economics?

Courtroom Cameras

Many, including judges like the Ninth Circuit's Alex Kozinski, famously push to allow cameras in the courtroom. The most recent high-profile camera rejection came in California's Proposition 8 gay marriage case. Advocates for gay marriage, believing that watching the testimony would powerfully humanize gay people and the marriage-equality cause, have been doing reenactments from the transcripts. The Wall Street Journal reports that a new reenactment campaign has started, complete with professional actors like Marissa Tomei (of My Cousin Vinnie fame). The new series is only focusing on the dramatic parts from the trial and is hoping to trigger a guerrilla theater movement, with people across the country filming their own reenactments and putting them up on YouTube.

On a different courtroom-camera note, the original Law & Order may be ending after this season (its 20th), reports The New York Times. If the cancellation does happen, the TV show will be tied with Gunsmoke as the longest-running network prime-time series. Its two spin-offs will reportedly be unaffected if the original is canceled.

And in the Business of Law...

The ABA Journal reports that a Texas attorney allegedly fired five rounds at a census worker who wasn't hightailing it off her property fast enough. She's facing assault with a deadly weapon charges. Luckily for the census worker, the bullets all missed.

ABA Journal also brings the story that two lawyers were among 17 people charged in a $3 million mortgage "rescue" fraud. The lawyers and co-conspirators were contacted by homeowners desperate to save their homes and responded by stripping $3 million in equity from the properties. Stories like that support the worst lawyers-as-parasites jokes.

The Am Law Litigation Daily reports that Sullivan & Cromwell is legendary for having "cryptic billing practices" but now faces public exposure of its billing rates and time sheets. S&C won a motion seeking sanctions on opposing counsel, and the judge asked S&C to submit its fees for reimbursement. Am Law Litigation Daily promises to report what the request contains.
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