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Criminal charges likely from Gulf oil spill, legal experts say

 
 
duckstandard
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      07-03-2010
Criminal charges likely from Gulf oil spill, legal experts say

By Marisa Taylor | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON Federal investigators are likely to file criminal charges
against at least one of the companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico
spill, raising the prospects of significantly higher penalties than a
current $75 million cap on civil liability, legal experts say.

The inquiry by the Homeland Security and Interior Departments into how
the spill occurred is still in its early stages and authorities have
not confirmed whether a criminal investigation has been launched.

But environmental law experts say it's just a matter of time until the
Justice Department steps in - if it hasn't already - to initiate a
criminal inquiry and take punitive action.

"There is no question there'll be an enforcement action," said David
M. Uhlmann, who headed the Justice Department's environmental crimes
section for seven years during the Clinton and Bush administrations.
"And, it's very likely that there will be at least some criminal
charges brought."

Such a likelihood has broad legal implications for BP and the two
other companies involved not the least of which is the amount of
money any responsible party could be required to pay. The White House
is asking Congress to lift the current $75 million cap on liability
under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but there's no cap on criminal
penalties. In fact, prosecutors in such cases can seek twice the cost
of environmental and economic damages resulting from the spill.

While Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed that Justice
Department lawyers are helping the agencies involved in the oil spill
inquiry with legal questions, department officials have refused to
detail what their role entails.

But Uhlmann and other experts said it's likely prosecutors are already
poring over evidence from the spill because under the Clean Water and
Air Acts and other federal laws aimed at protecting migratory birds,
an accidental oil spill of this magnitude could at least result in
misdemeanor negligence charges.

And under the migratory bird regulations, prosecutors have very broad
discretion.

"If it happens, then you can charge it," said William Carter, a former
federal prosecutor of 14 years who headed the environmental crimes
section for the Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office. "There's no intent
required."

He added that he agreed with Uhlmann, saying, "I would be shocked if
there were no criminal charges filed in this case. There are so many
things that went wrong out there."

In testimony on the Hill this week, all three companies involved in
the spill BP, Halliburton, and Transocean denied culpability for
the spill and have instead blamed each other.

BP did not respond to requests for comment.

Halliburton and Transocean declined to answer questions, saying it
would be "inappropriate" to comment on any possible litigation or
investigations.

"At the moment, Transocean is concentrating its efforts on assisting
BP and federal and state agencies on the clean-up effort," the company
said in a statement.

One of the numerous factors in determining whether to file criminal
charges is the adequacy of civil damages, which would provide an
additional reason for prosecutors to pursue a criminal case in
connection with the Gulf spill, experts said.

Prosecutors also look at the history of violations, which could also
persuade them to file charges. BP, for example, has already agreed to
pay millions in criminal penalties for several major incidents,
including for a fatal explosion at a Texas refinery in March 2005.

BP and several of its subsidiaries agreed to pay a total of $373
million in fines for the Texas explosion, leaks of crude oil from
pipelines in Alaska, and for fraud for conspiring to corner the market
and manipulate the price of propane carried through Texas pipelines.

While the government will probably only bring criminal charges if
there is some sort of negligence "that's not a very high bar,"
Uhlmann said.

In 1999, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the
misdemeanor conviction under the Clean Water Act of a supervisor at a
rock quarry project that accidentally ruptured an oil pipeline,
causing a spill.

For a felony, prosecutors have to demonstrate companies "knowingly"
violated the regulations.

Tracy Hester, the director of the Environment, Energy and Natural
Resources Center at the University of Houston, said prosecutors would
be looking for "any possible concealment of the risks, a failure to
respond to any known risks, and a failure to report a dangerous
situation."

"Knowing is a slippery term," Hester said. "But knowing doesn't
necessarily mean that you knew it was a violation of the law. You just
have to be aware that what you were doing fell into what is
regulated."

But Oliver Houck, a professor with Tulane University who specializes
in environmental law, predicted that prosecutors are not going to want
to pursue minor charges for such a catastrophic spill.

Meanwhile, the companies themselves have already started pointing
fingers.

In testimony this week, BP pointed to questions about the blowout
preventer and made it clear that Transocean owned it.

Transocean, however, denied the blowout preventer caused the accident
and hinted that the cementing and casing did not properly control the
pressure.

Halliburton, the cementing sub-contractor, pointed to BP as the well
owner.

"This has been a series of 'Oh my god' revelations, 'They did what?''
Houck said. "But those revelations are the grits and grease of
standard civil claims."

"To get into criminal land, you would have to prove that they knew
that the short cuts they were taking brought a high probability of
serious risk," he said. "I don't think the government has that yet.
That's what grand juries are for."

Houck added that some of the strongest environmental criminal cases
have come out of civil cases, which means that prosecutors may not
determine whether any of the companies have criminal liability for
months, if not years.

"The beauty part of civil trials is the competing companies," he said.
"As a prosecutor this is the most delightful scenario: All the
defendants proving each others' guilt."
 
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TheStoneCrusher
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Posts: n/a
 
      07-04-2010

"duckstandard" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
news:(E-Mail Removed)...
Criminal charges likely from Gulf oil spill, legal experts say

By Marisa Taylor | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON Federal investigators are likely to file criminal charges
against at least one of the companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico
spill, raising the prospects of significantly higher penalties than a
current $75 million cap on civil liability, legal experts say.

The inquiry by the Homeland Security and Interior Departments into how
the spill occurred is still in its early stages and authorities have
not confirmed whether a criminal investigation has been launched.

But environmental law experts say it's just a matter of time until the
Justice Department steps in - if it hasn't already - to initiate a
criminal inquiry and take punitive action.

"There is no question there'll be an enforcement action," said David
M. Uhlmann, who headed the Justice Department's environmental crimes
section for seven years during the Clinton and Bush administrations.
"And, it's very likely that there will be at least some criminal
charges brought."

Such a likelihood has broad legal implications for BP and the two
other companies involved not the least of which is the amount of
money any responsible party could be required to pay. The White House
is asking Congress to lift the current $75 million cap on liability
under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but there's no cap on criminal
penalties. In fact, prosecutors in such cases can seek twice the cost
of environmental and economic damages resulting from the spill.

While Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed that Justice
Department lawyers are helping the agencies involved in the oil spill
inquiry with legal questions, department officials have refused to
detail what their role entails.

But Uhlmann and other experts said it's likely prosecutors are already
poring over evidence from the spill because under the Clean Water and
Air Acts and other federal laws aimed at protecting migratory birds,
an accidental oil spill of this magnitude could at least result in
misdemeanor negligence charges.

And under the migratory bird regulations, prosecutors have very broad
discretion.

"If it happens, then you can charge it," said William Carter, a former
federal prosecutor of 14 years who headed the environmental crimes
section for the Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office. "There's no intent
required."

He added that he agreed with Uhlmann, saying, "I would be shocked if
there were no criminal charges filed in this case. There are so many
things that went wrong out there."

In testimony on the Hill this week, all three companies involved in
the spill BP, Halliburton, and Transocean denied culpability for
the spill and have instead blamed each other.

BP did not respond to requests for comment.

Halliburton and Transocean declined to answer questions, saying it
would be "inappropriate" to comment on any possible litigation or
investigations.

"At the moment, Transocean is concentrating its efforts on assisting
BP and federal and state agencies on the clean-up effort," the company
said in a statement.

One of the numerous factors in determining whether to file criminal
charges is the adequacy of civil damages, which would provide an
additional reason for prosecutors to pursue a criminal case in
connection with the Gulf spill, experts said.

Prosecutors also look at the history of violations, which could also
persuade them to file charges. BP, for example, has already agreed to
pay millions in criminal penalties for several major incidents,
including for a fatal explosion at a Texas refinery in March 2005.

BP and several of its subsidiaries agreed to pay a total of $373
million in fines for the Texas explosion, leaks of crude oil from
pipelines in Alaska, and for fraud for conspiring to corner the market
and manipulate the price of propane carried through Texas pipelines.

While the government will probably only bring criminal charges if
there is some sort of negligence "that's not a very high bar,"
Uhlmann said.

In 1999, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the
misdemeanor conviction under the Clean Water Act of a supervisor at a
rock quarry project that accidentally ruptured an oil pipeline,
causing a spill.

For a felony, prosecutors have to demonstrate companies "knowingly"
violated the regulations.

Tracy Hester, the director of the Environment, Energy and Natural
Resources Center at the University of Houston, said prosecutors would
be looking for "any possible concealment of the risks, a failure to
respond to any known risks, and a failure to report a dangerous
situation."

"Knowing is a slippery term," Hester said. "But knowing doesn't
necessarily mean that you knew it was a violation of the law. You just
have to be aware that what you were doing fell into what is
regulated."

But Oliver Houck, a professor with Tulane University who specializes
in environmental law, predicted that prosecutors are not going to want
to pursue minor charges for such a catastrophic spill.

Meanwhile, the companies themselves have already started pointing
fingers.

In testimony this week, BP pointed to questions about the blowout
preventer and made it clear that Transocean owned it.

Transocean, however, denied the blowout preventer caused the accident
and hinted that the cementing and casing did not properly control the
pressure.

Halliburton, the cementing sub-contractor, pointed to BP as the well
owner.

"This has been a series of 'Oh my god' revelations, 'They did what?''
Houck said. "But those revelations are the grits and grease of
standard civil claims."

"To get into criminal land, you would have to prove that they knew
that the short cuts they were taking brought a high probability of
serious risk," he said. "I don't think the government has that yet.
That's what grand juries are for."

Houck added that some of the strongest environmental criminal cases
have come out of civil cases, which means that prosecutors may not
determine whether any of the companies have criminal liability for
months, if not years.

"The beauty part of civil trials is the competing companies," he said.
"As a prosecutor this is the most delightful scenario: All the
defendants proving each others' guilt."

You must remember that no one is pointing a finger at the best inspectors
that money could buy. The whole thing is crazy. One of the first things
that President Obama did was to send a troop of lawyers down to the spill
rather than people who might have helped solve the problem. We have the
EPA: a government bureau that makes the laws, interprets the laws, enforces
the laws, and answers to no one. Send them there is like asking a surgeon
if you need an operation. Everyone is looking for someone to blame. Why
aren't they looking at President Obama's response. It was criminal. He
should be prosecuted. Could it be that the states involved are Red States?
When he acts, what does he do? He puts a moritorium on off-shore drilling.
Then to add insult to injury he tries to set money aside to pay the people
who have been laid off by this stupid action. I personally believe he is
not the least upset about the conditions. It gives him a lever to pursue
'cap & trade'. He is trying to increase spending to increase the deficit.
Then he will raise taxes . . . or the Republicans will have to . . . to
reduce the deficit. Eventually it will destroy the private sector by
taxation. Finally, we will have the marxist utopia that is being enjoyed by
the Europeans . . . err . . . Greece.


 
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Orion
Guest
Posts: n/a
 
      07-04-2010
ok I got it
"duckstandard" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
news:(E-Mail Removed)...
Criminal charges likely from Gulf oil spill, legal experts say

By Marisa Taylor | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON Federal investigators are likely to file criminal charges
against at least one of the companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico
spill, raising the prospects of significantly higher penalties than a
current $75 million cap on civil liability, legal experts say.

The inquiry by the Homeland Security and Interior Departments into how
the spill occurred is still in its early stages and authorities have
not confirmed whether a criminal investigation has been launched.

But environmental law experts say it's just a matter of time until the
Justice Department steps in - if it hasn't already - to initiate a
criminal inquiry and take punitive action.

"There is no question there'll be an enforcement action," said David
M. Uhlmann, who headed the Justice Department's environmental crimes
section for seven years during the Clinton and Bush administrations.
"And, it's very likely that there will be at least some criminal
charges brought."

Such a likelihood has broad legal implications for BP and the two
other companies involved not the least of which is the amount of
money any responsible party could be required to pay. The White House
is asking Congress to lift the current $75 million cap on liability
under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but there's no cap on criminal
penalties. In fact, prosecutors in such cases can seek twice the cost
of environmental and economic damages resulting from the spill.

While Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed that Justice
Department lawyers are helping the agencies involved in the oil spill
inquiry with legal questions, department officials have refused to
detail what their role entails.

But Uhlmann and other experts said it's likely prosecutors are already
poring over evidence from the spill because under the Clean Water and
Air Acts and other federal laws aimed at protecting migratory birds,
an accidental oil spill of this magnitude could at least result in
misdemeanor negligence charges.

And under the migratory bird regulations, prosecutors have very broad
discretion.

"If it happens, then you can charge it," said William Carter, a former
federal prosecutor of 14 years who headed the environmental crimes
section for the Los Angeles U.S. attorney's office. "There's no intent
required."

He added that he agreed with Uhlmann, saying, "I would be shocked if
there were no criminal charges filed in this case. There are so many
things that went wrong out there."

In testimony on the Hill this week, all three companies involved in
the spill BP, Halliburton, and Transocean denied culpability for
the spill and have instead blamed each other.

BP did not respond to requests for comment.

Halliburton and Transocean declined to answer questions, saying it
would be "inappropriate" to comment on any possible litigation or
investigations.

"At the moment, Transocean is concentrating its efforts on assisting
BP and federal and state agencies on the clean-up effort," the company
said in a statement.

One of the numerous factors in determining whether to file criminal
charges is the adequacy of civil damages, which would provide an
additional reason for prosecutors to pursue a criminal case in
connection with the Gulf spill, experts said.

Prosecutors also look at the history of violations, which could also
persuade them to file charges. BP, for example, has already agreed to
pay millions in criminal penalties for several major incidents,
including for a fatal explosion at a Texas refinery in March 2005.

BP and several of its subsidiaries agreed to pay a total of $373
million in fines for the Texas explosion, leaks of crude oil from
pipelines in Alaska, and for fraud for conspiring to corner the market
and manipulate the price of propane carried through Texas pipelines.

While the government will probably only bring criminal charges if
there is some sort of negligence "that's not a very high bar,"
Uhlmann said.

In 1999, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the
misdemeanor conviction under the Clean Water Act of a supervisor at a
rock quarry project that accidentally ruptured an oil pipeline,
causing a spill.

For a felony, prosecutors have to demonstrate companies "knowingly"
violated the regulations.

Tracy Hester, the director of the Environment, Energy and Natural
Resources Center at the University of Houston, said prosecutors would
be looking for "any possible concealment of the risks, a failure to
respond to any known risks, and a failure to report a dangerous
situation."

"Knowing is a slippery term," Hester said. "But knowing doesn't
necessarily mean that you knew it was a violation of the law. You just
have to be aware that what you were doing fell into what is
regulated."

But Oliver Houck, a professor with Tulane University who specializes
in environmental law, predicted that prosecutors are not going to want
to pursue minor charges for such a catastrophic spill.

Meanwhile, the companies themselves have already started pointing
fingers.

In testimony this week, BP pointed to questions about the blowout
preventer and made it clear that Transocean owned it.

Transocean, however, denied the blowout preventer caused the accident
and hinted that the cementing and casing did not properly control the
pressure.

Halliburton, the cementing sub-contractor, pointed to BP as the well
owner.

"This has been a series of 'Oh my god' revelations, 'They did what?''
Houck said. "But those revelations are the grits and grease of
standard civil claims."

"To get into criminal land, you would have to prove that they knew
that the short cuts they were taking brought a high probability of
serious risk," he said. "I don't think the government has that yet.
That's what grand juries are for."

Houck added that some of the strongest environmental criminal cases
have come out of civil cases, which means that prosecutors may not
determine whether any of the companies have criminal liability for
months, if not years.

"The beauty part of civil trials is the competing companies," he said.
"As a prosecutor this is the most delightful scenario: All the
defendants proving each others' guilt."


 
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