A settlement that held a dozen U.S. oil giants accountable for contaminating the water supply throughout the country has won the notice of one of America’s most influential legal organizations and put the legal team behind the lawsuit in the running for the Public Justice 2009 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.
Named as finalists for the annual award are co-lead counsel Scott Summy of Baron & Budd, P.C. in Dallas and Rob Gordon of Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C. in New York; and co-counsel Celeste Evangelisti and Carla Burke of Baron & Budd; and Robin Greenwald and Perry Weitz of Weitz & Luxenberg.
The team filed suit in 2002 against major oil refiners for allowing a chemical that causes cancer in animals, and possibly in humans, to seep into the water supply. The refiners —as a group, representing the largest, richest and most powerful corporations in the world —used methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) to burn gasoline more thoroughly and reduce air pollution, even though less harmful chemicals were available.
As the case progressed, the oil companies sought legislative immunity from the claims, pressing Congress for a provision that would have shielded MTBE manufacturers from litigation. But Summy and Gordon led a lobbying effort that, twice, knocked down the proposal, even with big oil’s powerful allies in the White House and in the House leadership.
After two successful appeals by Summy and Gordon’s team, the refiners agreed to a settlement in May 2008, paying more than $435 million in cash to remove contamination from more than one thousand wells that served 1.8 million people nationwide. In addition, the companies agreed to pay a substantial percentage of the costs of cleaning up any wells that would become contaminated over the next 30 years.
Summy, Gordon, Evangelisti, Burke, Greenwald and Weitz are among 36 lawyers in five cases named as finalists for their committed work in exceptional public interest cases. Detailed summaries of each case are accessible on the Public Justice website at www.publicjustice.net.
Finalists will be feted at the Foundation’s Annual Gala and Awards Dinner on July 28th in San Francisco. The winner of the 2009 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award will be announced at that event.