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Florida's new private counsel for oil spill issues offers a David v. Goliath angle on his assignment.
C. Steven Yerrid of the four-lawyer Yerrid Law Firm in Tampa said the oil industry may have hired "the best legal talent money can buy" but "odds or size has never bothered me."
Yerrid was appointed last week by executive order of Gov. Charlie Crist as the state's special counsel handling the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill response.
He's offering his services pro bono.
Yerrid is no newcomer to big-time litigation. He was part of Florida's legal dream team that sued the tobacco industry in the 1990s and helped negotiate an $11 billion settlement in the landmark case.
He's also won more than 200 jury verdicts and settlements.
The state has not sued over the spill, but the formation of a private trial team for the state is under way, Yerrid said.
"Justice too often goes to the well-moneyed and well-powered people, but we're going to have some people who know what they're doing, and we're not afraid of much," he said. "Litigation is the last resort, and we are not close to the last resort."
Attorney General Bill McCollum recruited two predecessors — Bob Butterworth, now with Atkinson Diner Stone Mankuta & Ploucha in Fort Lauderdale and lobbyist Jim Smith — to advise the state on its legal options.
In various aspects of its oil-spill response, BP is being advised in Florida by Akerman Senterfitt and elsewhere by such firms as Kirkland & Ellis and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
In Louisiana, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has hired several private law firms to help with legal matters involving the spill. Among them is Seattle's Marten Law, which represented Alaska in the Exxon Valdez litigation.
Caldwell is pushing for legislation to allow him to hire lawyers on contingent fee contracts for this work but is currently hiring under hourly wage contracts.
In addition to Marten Law, he's signed on Kanner & Whiteley in New Orleans; Henry Dart Attorneys at Law in Covington, Louisiana; Usry Weeks & Matthews in New Orleans; and Shows Cali Berthelot & Walsh in Baton Rouge.
While no state has yet pursued any spill lawsuits, attorneys general from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have all asked BP to formally define exactly what "legitimate expenses" it will cover from the spill. BP has not obliged.
C. STEVEN YERRID
• Won more than 200 jury verdicts and settlements
• Won more than 80 verdicts and settlements of $1 million or more
• Part of Florida legal dream team in $11 billion tobacco settlement
"Florida's outside counsel undeterred by odds." Miami Daily Business Review (2010). Florida Database. Web. 9 July 2010.
Gale Document Number:A230243567