5 votes A well-known attorney helped land a $2 billion settlement for Gulf Coast seafood-industry workers. But who was he really representing? Posted April 18, 2020 by skybrian Tags: deepwater horizon, usa, legal, fisheries, lawyers, mikal watts, settlements, oil spills, lawsuits.class action, author.francesca mari, long read, paywall.soft https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/bp-oil-spill-shrimpers-settlement/609082/ Link information This data is scraped automatically and may be incorrect. Title The Lawyer Whose Clients Didn't Exist Authors Francesca Mari Published May 18 2020 Word count 7271 words 1 comment Collapse replies Expand all Comments sorted by most votes newest first order posted relevance OK skybrian (OP) April 18, 2020 (edited April 18, 2020) Link From the article: [...] [...] [...] [...] [...] [...] [...] [...] From the article: Within weeks of the Deepwater explosion, the community got good news: Mikal Watts, a powerful plaintiff’s attorney known for electrifying juries on behalf of the “little guy,” decided to represent the Vietnamese fishermen against BP. [...] Watts hooked up with a South Texan named Eloy Guerra, who made a living pitching potential mass torts to lawyers, as well as recruiting plaintiffs for the cases. [...] It was Guerra’s idea, according to Watts, to seek out seafood workers harmed by the oil. “We are going to get you 5,000 to 7,000 clients,” Guerra emailed Watts in May 2010. “We are going to need $900,000.” Later Guerra emailed, “I will get you 20,000 claims if you want them.” Watts did. He upped his investment to $5 million for 20,000 plaintiffs, then $10 million for 40,000. And in August, Watts announced the haul. He was representing 40,000 fishermen, nearly all of them Vietnamese. [...] There was one problem, however: His fishermen didn’t exist. [...] To represent as many clients as possible, as quickly as possible, Watts and his fellow investors relied on an army of field-workers who spread out along the coast—and it was in this messy and time-consuming process that the case went awry. According to Watts’s version of events, by the time he began to realize the scope of the problem, he was in too deep to get out. [...] Despite all the frenzied activity, Watts discovered [...] that the field-workers had barely any documentation of damages for the people they’d entered into the database. To address the issue, he invited some 20 people involved in the case—among them Hilliard, Warren, and Le—to convene for a meeting at a fancy New Orleans hotel. Le told the group that her crew was overwhelmed with data entry and that locating the fishermen who’d filled out initial client forms had been difficult, because so many of them spent the off-season in Vietnam. [...] Watts and his investors knew the fact packets were flimsy at best. In late December, John Cracken had traveled to Mississippi to investigate the situation, and on the way home he’d emailed his partners: “We don’t have 41K ‘clients’; we have a list of 41K names.” (The exact number of clients cited by the investors varied, but was never less than 40,000.) Kristy Le had no more than 15 complete packets, Cracken reported. The list included unreliable birth dates and Social Security numbers; invalid telephone numbers and street addresses; and a number of names that seemed to have been copied directly from the phone book. Cracken, in collaboration with Harvard- and Wharton-educated consultants, estimated that fixing the list would cost a minimum of $22 million, which was double what the investors had already put in. [...] Still, by April 2011, Watts had filed more than 40,000 short-form claims in the multidistrict litigation. The same month, The New York Times ran a story featuring two Vietnamese residents of New Orleans who were included on Watts’s client list despite not having been harmed by the spill, much less agreeing to join the suit. That prompted the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board to open an investigation into the case, but Watts pressed on. He told me he considered dropping the clients he couldn’t verify, but decided it was too legally risky—for him. Because of legal rules, anyone he dropped would be barred from joining another settlement or mass tort and, if they did have a real claim, might sue him as a result. “I would have had 10,000 malpractice lawsuits against me,” Watts said. “You’ve heard doctors talk about practicing defensive medicine. We were very much practicing defensive law.” [...] Hiring runners—independent field-workers who do not have a license to practice law—to solicit clients is illegal in Texas. It’s called barratry, or, colloquially, “ambulance chasing,” and each victim of the practice could recover up to $10,000 in penalties.