Criminal Justice

BP Victims Blast 'Shockingly Lenient' Plea

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Updated: More than a dozen victims of a 2005 Texas refinery explosion have blasted a planned criminal plea deal with BP and successfully sought the recusal of the federal judge in the case.

The deal announced last month calls for BP to plead guilty to an environmental crime and pay $373 million in fines and restitution. But now 13 victims say in a written objection filed in federal court in Houston that penalties of at least $1 billion—equal to roughly the company’s profit for the entire year before the March 23, 2005 explosion—would be more appropriate, according to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). A Bloomberg article says the victims are seeking $2 billion.

Attorney David Perry also contended in an objection filed yesterday that U.S. District Judge Gray Miller, who was scheduled to accept the plea deal on Nov. 27, should recuse himself from the case because of an alleged conflict of interest—he formerly practiced at Fulbright & Jaworski, one of the law firms that has represented BP. The judge did recuse himself, without offering an explanation, soon after the filing was made.

The objection called the planned plea deal “shockingly lenient.” It appears that Bloomberg bases its report that the victims are seeking $2 billion in penalties on an interview with Perry, who reportedly said that BP should have to pay maximum penalties of twice the profit it earned from illegal activity.

“BP, based in London, has admitted responsibility for the blast, which generated a record $21 million fine from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and a finding by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that excessive budget cuts compromised safety. BP said it never intentionally endangered workers,” Bloomberg writes.

The company has already settled most of the 4,000 personal injury and property damage claims that resulted from the accident, but still has yet to resolve some 1,200, the news agency says.

The accident reportedly killed 15 people and injured more than 170.

Houston Chronicle: “Judge steps down from BP criminal case.”

(Updated at 3:37 p.m., central time.)

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