BP victims want high court to look at plea agreement

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jun. 10, 2008, 5:53am

GALVESTON � The U.S. Supreme Court could intervene in the mass litigation against BP resulting from the 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.

Attorneys for the blast victims hope to have the highest court in the land review and discard a guilty plea deal to which the energy company consented before U.S. District Court in October 2007.

The plea deal, which imposes a $50 million fine and a three-year probation stint on BP, received a lot of criticism from the plaintiffs, who are upset at the government for not consulting them about the details.

In addition, the plaintiffs believe the pending plea bargain between BP and the government is too lenient.

The Crime Victims Rights Act of 2005 requires the government to consult victims in plea negotiations.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal has not made a final ruling on the agreement.

The victims have asked the 5th Circuit to hold on to the case before sending it back to Rosenthal. That way, the Supreme Court can look at it.

The U.S. Supreme Court will go into recess in early July and reconvene in the fall.

An attorney representing the victims said the high court should step in because of the differences in appeals courts' jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, a civil trial focusing on the blast is in progress in Galveston County District Court.

The March 2005 blasts killed 15 and injured more than 170.

Close to 75 percent of the suits have been settled. Two prior cases closed with both parties reaching settlement before the jury heard complete testimony.

BP has paid more than $1 billion in victim compensation and a fine of $21.4 million to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration since the start of the case.

Although the oil major admits culpability in the incident, it believes the event cannot be fully responsible for the reported injuries.

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