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•BP wants U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes to supervise lawsuits in wake of oil disaster
•Hughes has strong financial ties to oil industry, has received large sum of royalties
•Hughes to CNN: "Let facts be submitted to a candid world," a Thomas Jefferson quote
•Lawyers who have dealt with Hughes describe him as "tough but fair"
Houston, Texas (CNN) – The judge that BP wants to hear an estimated 200 lawsuits over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster gets tens of thousands of dollars a year in oil royalties and is paid travel expenses to industry conferences, financial disclosure forms show.
Lawyers who practice before U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes say he's tough but fair, and a CNN review of his cases found he ruled in favor of oil companies only slightly more often than he ruled against them. But his connections to the industry have raised eyebrows at a time when BP is under fire for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Federal financial disclosure forms obtained by CNN show that since 2003, Hughes has consistently been paid annual fees from the oil and gas industry, mostly in the form of lease payments for wells and mineral rights on land he owns. None of the payments comes from BP, but his holdings include mutual funds that draw income from Anadarko Petroleum, a minority owner in the well now pouring up to 2.5 million gallons a day into the Gulf.
In some cases, the amounts are significant. In others, the payments are relatively small.
Oil giant ConocoPhillips paid him between $50,000 and $100,000 in 2008, the last year in which records are publicly available. In a note attached to the 2008 form, Hughes said he expected the amounts to be relatively similar for 2009. He gets smaller amounts from smaller producers such as Sun Oil, Everest Oil and Wagner Oil, which pay for the right to drill oil and gas from lands he owns.
The federal disclosure form does not require exact amounts, only estimates and approximate figures.
A legal expert on ethics, Indiana University professor Charles Geyh, told CNN that judges with financial ties to the oil industry should make their connections crystal clear.
"When you take it together, is there a concern that a reasonable person might say, 'Look-it, he's not a judge that happens to be dabbling -- he's in effect a participant in the industry he's trying to judge,' " Geyh said.
Hughes has been sitting on the federal bench in Houston since the mid-1980s, and BP has asked that he supervise all of the estimated 200 cases filed against it since the April sinking of the offshore drill rig Deepwater Horizon. The sinking left 11 workers dead and uncorked a gusher that has been fouling the Gulf for more than eight weeks.
BP would not comment on Hughes' financial disclosures. But the judge has held two recent meetings in Houston to discuss possible ethics concerns, a lawyer who attended those meetings told CNN.
"In both of those hearings, the questions have been raised about whether or not he should preside over these cases or whether there will be a conflict," Mark Lanier, a prominent Houston plaintiff attorney, told CNN. "In the second one, the judge explained he had listed online all of his financial disclosure information, so people would be able to look at and probe."
In May of 2009, Hughes issued a favorable decision for Devon Energy in a dispute with its insurance company. According to an attorney for the insurance firm, the total amount was $3.9 million. Court records show that Hughes did not disclose his royalty payments from Devon at any point during the proceedings.