June 10, 2008
By Mark Collette
The Daily News
TEXAS CITY — Victims of the March 2005 explosions at BP America’s Texas City refinery are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will review and toss out a government plea deal they say is unfair, a victims’ attorney said Monday.
Attorneys say the case could have lasting effects on victims’ rights in future criminal cases across the nation.
On May 7, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. government violated the rights of victims in the BP explosions because the government reached a plea bargain with BP without consulting the victims. The Crime Victims Rights Act of 2005 requires the government to consult victims in plea negotiations.
But rather than throwing out the plea deal altogether, as the victims wanted, the appeals court sent the case back to a lower court to reconsider.
Victims’ attorney Edward Mallett said that places undue burden on the victims to undo the deal because the government is “married to” the terms it has proposed, including the $50 million fine victims say is far too low. The victims also want any punishment to include an independent safety monitor at the refinery.
In its ruling, the appeals court noted the Crime Victims Rights Act has been applied differently by other appeals courts.
Mallett said that’s why the Supreme Court should step in. Otherwise, he said, “the rights of victims in the United States would be different depending on where the victim was victimized.”
The BP victims have asked the 5th Circuit to suspend its ruling until the Supreme Court decides whether to review the case. That may not happen until the fall or later, because the Supreme Court takes a summer recess beginning in late June.
The explosions in 2005 killed 15 people and injured more than 170. BP pleaded guilty to criminal safety lapses that led to the explosions.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has said any one of numerous measures, such as installing modern equipment, repairing alarms, keeping proper log books and ensuring proper worker supervision could have averted disaster.