The candidates seeking to be Alabama's next governor are not joining the current governor in criticizing Attorney General Troy King for suing BP PLC over the Gulf oil spill.
Democratic nominee Ron Sparks said people were tired of waiting for someone to hold BP accountable and the Republican attorney general should be commended for filing federal court suits last week against BP and other companies involved in the spill.
"These companies must pay Alabama what they owe, and they will do everything they can to escape liability," he said.
Republican nominee Robert Bentley said BP and the federal government failed Alabama citizens. "It is the right of the Alabama attorney general to file this lawsuit against BP," he said.
King went to court Thursday against the wishes of Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who originally appointed King in 2004. The two have been sharply at odds during the past year, particularly over Riley's task force raids and threats against electronic bingo casinos. King was defeated for re-election in the Republican primary and leaves office in January. Riley finishes his second term and also leaves office in January.
Riley called the suits premature because Alabama has not yet presented BP with a bill for the spill's impact on the state and has not yet tried to negotiate a settlement. He announced earlier that he will seek full compensation for all lost tax revenue due to the spill.
King said swift action was needed because BP repeatedly broke promises and was working to gain an advantage in court by hiring the best expert witnesses to keep them from testifying against the company.
King has been talking to private attorneys about helping his office with the suits. They would work on a contingency fee that would pay them 14 percent of the money the state receives from the suits.
In response to King's plans, Riley signed an executive order saying the governor will approve a contract for hiring attorneys on a contingency fee only in extraordinary circumstances when it is the only reasonable form of payment.
"This executive order does not bar the attorney general from doing anything or from pursuing this lawsuit, but it does protect the taxpayers from getting ripped off by lawyers who expect to make millions of dollars, even when they play no actual role in getting Alabamians the payments they deserve from BP," Riley said.
The contingency fee proposed by King is the same as Riley's administration and Gov. Don Siegelman's administration used for lawsuits against oil companies accused of underpaying royalties to the state for natural gas wells drilled in coastal waters.
One of the state's lead attorneys in those suits, Robert Cunningham of Mobile, said Monday there was no rush for the state to go to court and it would have been better for the attorney general to work in cooperation with the governor.
"It seems to me that having the governor's full support would be in the best interest of the state. Without that, I would not want to pursue litigation on behalf of the state," Cunningham said.
BP spokesman Justin Saia said the oil company has already paid $83 million in claims in Alabama.
"The voluntary claims process that BP has established may be the surest and quickest way to get all legitimate claims paid, and is the best way to ensure that the full amount goes to the claimants, and not to pay attorneys' fees," said Saia, who worked as Sparks' campaign manager until early January.
By PHILLIP RAWLS