Was it smart for Alabama to elect a Republican attorney general with ties to the petroleum industry--just months after the BP oil spill?
Luther Strange has been in office less than a month, and he already is showing signs that he will try to limit Big Oil's damages from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Folks who know about Strange's ties to the Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings will not be surprised that he might take questionable actions that stand to favor corporate interests.
Strange's first curious move came last week when he announced that he has dismissed private attorneys brought in by predecessor Troy King to handle lawsuits connected to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Strange will head up the litigation himself.
Why is this troubling? An article from Reuters Legal spells it out:
The case has posed a sensitive political issue for Strange. In the 2010 primary, King seized on Strange's previous work as an oil industry lobbyist, which he argued would impede Strange's ability to take on BP. In particular, Strange was registered to represent Transocean Offshore Drilling . . . on matters related to offshore drilling for six months in 1998, federal records show. Transocean's successor company owned the Deepwater rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.
Strange's ties to Transocean actually are much deeper than that paragraph suggests. In fact, his ties to the company that became Transocean date back to the 1980s. And that's because Transocean essentially was born in Birmingham, which long has been Strange's home base. Reports the Mobile Press-Register:
Transocean's corporate roots are planted in Alabama. The company was born in 1973 as Sonat Offshore, a subsidiary of Sonat Inc., a Birmingham-based natural gas utility that was an Alabama economic powerhouse for much of the 20th century.
Strange was hired by Sonat in 1980 as a young lawyer straight out of Tulane University. He was promoted to head of the company's Washington office in 1985 and represented Sonat in Congress until 1994, when Strange left the company but continued to represent it as a contract lobbyist.
Sonat spun off its Transocean subsidiary in 1996, and the drilling company was transformed by a series of mergers and acquisitions over the next decade. Once based in the tallest building in downtown Birmingham, its headquarters today are in Zug, Switzerland.
Anyone who is familiar with downtown Birmingham can point out the building that used to be known as the Sonat Tower. The company has undergone changes, but the building still stands tall:
The publicly owned Transocean Ltd. has more than 26,000 employees in 20 locations around the world. Sonat merged with El Paso Corp. in 1999.
Is Luther Strange handling the BP litigation so he can help manage the damages for one of his former clients? Alabamians should give that question some serious thought. Republicans on the Alabama Supreme Court, known as the "Exxon Eight," already have cheated the state out of more than $3 billion in a fraud verdict against ExxonMobil. Don't be surprised if the fleecing of regular Alabamians continues on Luther Strange's watch.
We're already seeing signs that the Alabama State Bar might be working as an accomplice for Strange. Reports Reuters Legal:
In a letter dated Aug. 19, Alabama State Bar General Counsel J. Anthony McLain advised Strange that his work with Transocean would present a conflict only if Strange had obtained confidential information during his employment with Transocean that could be used against the company in litigation. Strange maintains he has no conflict. BP declined to comment on the issue.
Talk about turning an issue on its head. It's highly unlikely that the fine folks at Transocean have anything to worry about with Luther Strange. After all, he's their boy. It's the regular citizens of Alabama who have cause for concern about our state's new AG.
Isn't it interesting that Tony McLain, of the Alabama State Bar, sees no possible conflict if Luther Strange uses his 30-year ties to Transocean to help fleece the public?
Looks like it's business as usual in Alabama.