By Andrew Longstreth
Nov 15 (Reuters) - Lawyers for two BP Plc employees who were
charged with manslaughter on Thursday in the Deepwater Horizon
disaster said the U.S. government had unfairly targeted their
Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, the two highest ranking BP
supervisors onboard the rig in the hours before the disaster,
were innocent of the charges against them, the lawyers said.
Earlier on Thursday, the government alleged that "negligent
and grossly negligent" conduct by Kaluza and Vidrine led to the
explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, the deaths of 11
workers and the release of millions of barrels of oil into the
Gulf of Mexico.
On April 20, 2010, Kaluza and Vidrine were aware that a
drill pipe inserted into the Macondo well to test its pressure
showed that the well was not secure, the government said in an
indictment. They then failed to alert engineers onshore to the
problem and accepted "illogical" explanations from members of
the rig crew as to why pressure in the well was building,
according to the indictment. Later that evening, the rig
exploded, killing 11 men onboard.
In statements, lawyers for the two men said their clients
were being wrongly targeted.
"After nearly three years and tens of millions of dollars in
investigation, the Government needs a scapegoat," said Shaun
Clarke and David Gerger, attorneys for Kaluza. "No one should
take any satisfaction in this indictment of an innocent man.
This is not justice."
Vidrine's attorney said that the government had "exercised
exceedingly poor judgment" in charging his client.
"It is almost inconceivable that any fair-minded person
would blame this hardworking and diligent man for one of the
most catastrophic events in the history of the oil business,"
said the attorney, Bob Habans.
Both Vidrine and Kaluza are veterans of the oil business,
according to their lawyers. Vidrine has over 39 years experience
while Kaluza, who joined BP in 1997, has 44.
The two each face 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter, 11
counts of seaman's manslaughter and one count of Clean Water Act
Involuntary manslaughter is a broad statute covering
individuals whose reckless conduct leads directly to the loss of
life. Seaman's manslaughter is reserved for those employed on
ships whose misconduct results in death.
Generally to prove manslaughter at a trial, prosecutors have
to show that the defendant's conduct was more than mere
negligence, legal experts said.
"It becomes a very difficult case for both defense lawyers
and prosecutors," said Ed Little, a defense attorney who is not
involved in the BP case. "It becomes a rhetorical battle."
In addition to the legal standard of manslaughter, another
key aspect to the case could be what other factors could be to
blame for the disaster.
In his statement, Vidrine's lawyer said that numerous
investigative bodies had blamed many other individuals and
factors. "Among many causes identified by these investigations
were the failure of negligently designed cement at the bottom of
the well, the failure of the blowout preventer, and the failure
of others to monitor and control the well," he said.
BP on Thursday agreed to pay the U.S. government $4.5
billion and to plead guilty to felony misconduct in the
A third individual, a former senior BP executive, was
charged with misleading the U.S. Congress as it investigated the
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