For all the criticisms of former Gov. Charlie Crist, no one can attack how he handled the BP oil spill. He made virtually daily efforts to hold that international corporate conglomerate responsible for the worst man-made disaster in our history.
I was honored to be appointed special counsel to the governor shortly after the spill. Along with him, I personally spent hundreds of hours preparing, strategizing and documenting Florida's claim against this corporate wrongdoer and its accomplices, Halliburton and TransOcean. It is a shame that the massive and catastrophic harm caused to this generation of Floridians — and generations to come — remains unpaid.
My career has been successful beyond anything I could have imagined. So I had the ability, the honor and the privilege to represent the people of Florida pro bono not for just the nearly 1,000 hours I personally spent, but the substantial costs I incurred and personally paid for in trying to ensure our citizenry would receive appropriate reparations and restitution for this man-made tragedy. The harm was not just huge economic losses to our state and its people, but ecological and environmental damage that we have yet to fully appreciate or even understand.
As my term neared its end on Dec. 31, 2010, I made several attempts to reach out to Gov.-elect Rick Scott so that the transition to my successor legal representative would be seamless and the massive claims by the state would not fall between the cracks. I never received the courtesy of a reply, much less an acknowledgement of my effort as special counsel.
Frankly, I did not expect Scott to thank me — he is simply too friendly with corporate America to thank a trial lawyer, regardless of the services rendered and even though the beneficiaries of my work were the people of Florida.
That is regrettable, but what has happened in these many intervening months is simply unacceptable. While Florida attempts to operate in the face of a huge deficit with underfunded programs and underpaid staff, Scott has elected to make nice with the corporate wrongdoers and accept paltry token payments. There is no logical explanation.
I estimated the state could recover upward of $2 billion for the multifaceted claims that could rightfully be asserted. Several months back, Scott accepted $30 million from the wrongdoers, appeared at a joint news conference and profusely thanked them for their "payment." It is now July 2011, and the billion-dollar-plus bill owed to Florida remains unpaid. The reason? Scott does not want corporate America to pick up the check even when the wrongdoing is clear, the damages apparent and the need for payment never greater.
Anticipating Scott's response, I am not against corporate America. Our country's corporations have done enormous good and provided countless jobs through generations of Americans.
It is actually much simpler than all that. When a corporation does wrong and inflicts enormous damages and harm, it must be held accountable — just like any individual. It is ironic that Scott fails to comprehend that basic notion, especially given his own experience when the corporation he headed defrauded Medicare and paid one of the largest fines ever imposed in U.S. history.
That may explain his repeated condemnation of trial lawyers, who have also made significant and huge contributions to our country, but it fails to offer any explanation for his profound inaction regarding the BP oil spill and its aftermath.
Scott needs to do the job expected of him by his employers — Florida's citizens and taxpayers. Unfortunately, I believe the future is fairly certain, given his announced and demonstrated agenda. Sooner or later Scott will get $200 million, maybe $250 million, from BP and the corporate gang of wrongdoers. He will hold a big news conference, probably arm-in-arm with the people who so damaged our shores, our sea and our people.
When that day comes, know that he will be getting 10 cents on the dollar. In light of the egregious circumstances of what has occurred, any experienced trial lawyer would scoff at such chump change.
No one from this governor's administration has sought access or even taken one minute to look at the wealth of materials and the huge amount of work product that was assembled on behalf of the people of Florida to pursue our claim. What a terrible shame.
Steve Yerrid, a Tampa lawyer, was formerly the special counsel to the governor regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.