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Question of the day: Is BP run by children?
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Question of the day: Is BP run by children?

Federal Judge Carl Barbier of New Orleans already has ruled that BP is guilty of "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct" in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. His Sept. 4 finding exposed the British oil firm to as much as $18 billion in penalties.

Given that further proceedings on the case are still scheduled before Judge Barbier, it probably have been wise of BP not to tick him off any further.

This message was lost on the company's lawyers. After issuing his ruling, he granted them permission to file a reply brief, as long as it was no longer than 35 pages, double-spaced -- 10 pages longer than court rules usually allow. Nevertheless, they tried to snow him by reducing the line spacing on their word processor. The maneuver allowed them to squeeze the equivalent of six extra pages into the brief.

I know! Childish, right? As Elliot Hannon of Slate observes, "It's an odd approach when trying to prove yourself un-reckless." In any event, Judge Barbier caught them at it. "Finally," he wrote ominously at the close of a procedural order Monday, "the Court must address the format of BP's opposition memorandum.

"The court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules -- particularly in a case as massive and complex as this.... Counsel's tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here. Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck."

Barbier's right in comparing this to something college students would do to fool an inattentive professor -- though if I remember my college career correctly, you futzed with the line spacing to make a short paper seem longer, not to squeeze more material within a page limit -- when it's already happy hour at the Rathskeller, you want to write less, not more!

It's proper to note that BP seems to have expended more effort and lawyer fees on courthouse legal maneuvering than in making good on the damage it caused to residents and businesses on the Gulf Coast.

As we reported in February, the oil giant tried to renege on a settlement deal its own attorneys had approved, rolling its big guns into federal courthouses, placing ads in major newspapers and snagging a hugely sympathetic article in BusinessWeek.

Somehow it persuaded "60 Minutes" to air a segment parroting its complaints that the settlement deal has allowed many businesses in the Gulf states to pocket settlement checks based on fraudulent claims. Barbier and federal appeals judges have consistently laughed BP's position out of court.

This may be the oil company's most foolish stunt yet. Hasn't it learned by now that Judge Barbier isn't someone to mess with?

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