Crude Oil Lawsuit Firm Defends Conduct in Counsel Fight

A law firm seeking to lead the litigation over alleged manipulation of Brent crude oil prices challenged claims by a rival firm that it broke court rules and its lawyers are too inexperienced for the job.

Kirby McInerney LLP, a New York law firm, is seeking to be named lead counsel for the claimants in at least a dozen suits alleging some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including BP Plc, Statoil ASA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, conspired with Morgan Stanley and energy traders including Vitol Group to manipulate spot prices for Brent crude for more than a decade.

The firm denied claims by another firm seeking the lead counsel position, New York’s Lovell Stewart Halebian Jacobson LLP, that it broke court rules in filing a sworn declaration with the court under seal. Kirby McInerney also claimed it had Lovell Stewart’s support as lead counsel in litigation over manipulation of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

“The only thing that has changed between that case and this one is competing counsel’s self-interest,” Kirby McInerney said in a court filing it’s seeking to have considered by U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter, who’s overseeing the suits.

Lead counsel in class actions control the direction of the litigation, assign tasks to other law firms, decide whether to settle or go to trial, and eventually reap the largest fees.

In their complaint, a group of traders represented by Kirby McInerney alleged they paid “artificial and anticompetitive prices” for Brent futures. They claim the defendants artificially drove the Dated Brent spot price up or down to allow them to profit on swaps.

Misleading Information

The traders said the oil company and energy-trading house defendants, which include Trafigura Beheer BV and Phibro Trading LLC, submitted false and misleading information to Platts, an energy news and price publisher whose quotes are used by traders worldwide.

Kirby McInerney claimed it has devoted the most resources to investigating the case.

Lovell Stewart’s Christopher Lovell didn’t immediately respond to a voice mail and e-mail seeking comment on the court filing.

The case is McDonnell v. Royal Dutch Shell Plc, 13-cv-07089, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The multidistrict litigation is In Re North Sea Brent Crude Oil Futures Litigation, 13-md-02475, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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