Alabama Gov. Bob Riley signed an executive order last week capping compensation for lawyers representing the state just hours before Attorney General Troy King filed two lawsuits against BP PLC and other companies for negligence in the Gulf oil disaster.

The order requires gubernatorial approval for any legal contract exceeding $195 an hour or containing a contingency-fee agreement. Riley said it reaffirms existing law and longstanding state policy, but was necessary because King previously tried to hire a law firm that would have collected 14% of any damages paid.

"The top priority of a lawsuit must be to compensate Alabamians for their losses, not to enrich lawyers," Riley said.

Both men are Republicans and are set to leave office in January. The two-term governor said his executive order does not bar the attorney general from pursuing the lawsuits he filed Aug. 12 against BP and related companies.

The lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, allege that negligence by BP PLC, BP America Inc., drilling contractor Transocean Ltd. and related companies caused the explosion and fire that resulted in the April 20 sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig and released of up to 60,000 barrels a day of crude oil into the Gulf during the next three months.

Riley said the attorney general should have waited to see how the voluntary claims process progressed before taking legal action. However, King indicated that time was a factor in his decision to file.

"Every day that passes, BP gains further advantage," he said in a statement. "BP is retaining all the best expert witnesses, not because they need their services, but so the experts will be unable to testify against BP. They are selling off their assets — perhaps, to divest themselves of assets that American courts could reach to satisfy a judgment."

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