One of the most vocal proponents of an offshore drilling ban has resigned from his position at Akerman Senterfitt after the law firm, Florida’s largest, was tapped to defend BP from the onslaught of lawsuits facing the oil giant since the Deepwater Horizon disaster began on April 20. State Sen. Dan Gelber says that his decision was made weeks ago, despite claims made Monday evening by state Sen. Dave Aronberg, who is calling for his resignation over the apparent conflict of interest. Both men are running for state Attorney General and seek the Democratic primary nomination in August.
In a prepared statement, Aronberg invoked the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and implied his opponent had been profiting from the very company he publicly seeks to hold accountable:
As a candidate for attorney general, it is an inherent problem when your own law firm is on other side of one of the most important pending lawsuits in Florida’s history.
Working for the law firm that is defending British Petroleum for damage done to Florida beaches is disqualifying. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that you can’t profit from the polluter and then represent those who have been injured by that same polluter.
Earlier this month, Gelber and fellow Akerman attorney and state Sen. Alex Villalobos defended their positions at the firm and reaffirmed their push for an offshore drilling ban.
Villalobos, who chairs the Senate rules committee and sits on the policy and steering committee on energy, environment and land use, wrote to Akerman chairman Andrew Smulian on behalf of the firm’s legislators on May 24.
He requested to be “walled off” and isolated from any “discussions, documents or activities of any kind between the firm and BP.”
He noted the legislators’ “of counsel” status at the firm means they have no ownership stake or access to the firm’s financial records and do not share in firm profits.
“By serving in the ‘of counsel’ relationship, the legislators who are associated with the firm are not involved in any manner with this client nor do we have access to files or information relating to the firm’s representation of BP,” the letter stated.
Gelber went on to add:
Akerman has over 400 lawyers and handles tens of thousands of cases. I am of counsel to the firm and not a partner. I know nothing about the case, nor will I ever. I have publicly demanded that BP be held accountable for their gross negligence and for the pain they have inflicted on our state’s economy and environment, and will continue to do so aggressively.
Speaking to the St. Petersburg Times, Gelber called Aronberg’s statement a “political stunt.”
“I sent in my resignation before he made this sophomoric move,” he said. “Politicizing the oil spill in this way is pretty low.”