Legal Briefing: Transocean's Slimy Moves Slow Some Oil Spill Litigation

A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

1851 Law Won't Let Transocean Completely Slide Off the Liability Hook

A few weeks ago, I noted that Transocean (RIG) had invoked an 1851 maritime statute to ostensibly try to limit its Gulf oil spill disaster liability to $27 million, but more likely in an attempt to slow down claims and gain control of the litigation pending against it. In the latest development on this legal maneuver, a U.S. District Court has ruled that whatever the $27 million cap may apply to, it doesn't cover environmental law-based claims against Transocean.

As a result, the states' and federal governments' cases against Transocean can't be delayed or consolidated by Transocean. Nor can claims filed under the Oil Pollution Act, unless the plaintiff is BP (BP). Unfortunately for rig workers and others hurt by the accident, personal injury and wrongful death claims are still subject to the process started by Transocean. So, even though experts contend the $27 million liability cap won't apply ultimately, those cases will still be delayed by Transocean's tactics.

Playing Politics with an Innocent Man's Life

How low will a politician running for office stoop to avoid even the most flimsy claim that she is not sufficiently tough on crime? Based on a New York Times report, she'll go lower than any limbo champ.

William Macumber has spent the last 35 of his 74 years -- nearly half his life -- in prison for a double homicide that everyone now agrees he didn't commit. (It appears his estranged ex-wife framed him.) Everyone agrees that Macumber is innocent, that is, except Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Macumber's ex-wife. Brewer, a Republican, took office when Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned to become head of Homeland Security. Now she's running for her own full term, and seemingly views freeing Macumber as too great a risk to her chances. Indeed, she rejected the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency's unanimous recommendation that she free Macumber shortly after announcing her candidacy, and the explanation her office has released concerning that decision has been strictly "boilerplate."

And in the Business of Law ...

• The international mega-merger of Sonnenschein and Denton Wilde is off to a rocky start, reports Above the Law. A couple of years ago, Sonnenschein picked up 100 attorneys from the melting-down firm of Thacher, Proffitt and Wood, and gave the partners among them sweetheart compensation deals to stay for two years. Now those partners are apparently threatening to leave, and Denton Wilde is complaining that it wasn't informed about the situation during the merger negotiations. As ATLnotes, however, it's not at all clear that Denton should want to keep these partners -- at least, not at their currently inflated compensation schedules. Thacher went under on their watch, and the Great Recession has noticeably eroded their book of business.

• Above the Law also reports that three deferred associates of McDermott Will & Emery were just told that their associate offers were rescinded. If the wannabe big firm attorneys wish, they are welcome at MWE's "discovery" center, where they can do mind-numbing document review work at a rate of pay far less than an associate gets, but far more than a barista earns. Similarly, ATL reports that Simpson Thacher has decided it doesn't have room for all of the deferred associates it sent out on public-interest fellowships.

• Finally, the Am Law Daily reports that the three firms running apprenticeship programs instead of traditional first-year classes are very satisfied with the programs so far and intend to continue them with their 2010 classes.