Legal Briefing: Texas Sues BP Over Refinery Pollution


A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

BP Lawsuits Over Refinery Air Pollution

A second BP disaster continues to produce expensive lawsuits. Nearly a quarter of Texas City's residents are suing the oil company over air pollution that spewed from the town's BP refinery for a month. (This is the same refinery that had a deadly explosion a few years back.) Now Texas's attorney general is suing BP, as well, filing a civil environmental enforcement action Monday. The AG's complaint notes that the pollution at issue was released because BP refused to idle equipment while related equipment was repaired, and states that ". . . BP once again prioritiz[ed] profits over environmental compliance."

While the complaint is very clear, what's less clear is why this is a civil action rather than a criminal one. The complaint notes BP's repeated violations at the refinery: From 2000 to 2007 alone, Texas entered 15 enforcement orders against the refinery. Moreover, conduct doesn't get much more deliberate than using equipment that is known will release pollutants. Finally, while all pollution is bad, some is particularly hazardous, and this recent release included benzene, a human carcinogen. For 40 days the refinery coughed out 400 pounds of benzene, a level 40 times the reportable limit. After so many slaps by Texas, maybe BP's wrists will finally show a bruise.

Goldman Settled Quick; Tourre's Case May Take a Long Time

Although Fabrice Tourre, the Goldman Sachs employee charged along with Goldman in the famous SEC fraud case, reportedly had preliminary settlement talks with the SEC, trial is the most likely path forward at the moment. Getting to trial will take a long time, however, as the government is giving Tourre a lot of evidence to consider: A 900,000 document dump that includes some 9,000,000 pages. Tourre's lawyer claims looking at those documents could take nine months. In addition, both the SEC and Tourre want to interview dozens of witnesses.

And in the Business of Law...

The New York Law Journal has a detailed report on the increase in summer associate classes for next summer (interviewing starts in a week for next summer's jobs). Apparently a confluence of factors supports the increase: more work at the firms, entry level ranks at the firms decimated by layoffs, and fears that as the economy improves, low and mid-level associates will leave. Nonetheless schools aren't expecting firms will hire at the 2007 or 2008 levels.

Bill Lerach, the infamous plaintiff attorney, doesn't regret the kickback crimes that sent him to prison for two years and caused him to lose $8 million in fines and forfeiture, said the judge who sentenced him and is now overseeing his 1,000 hours of community service. The irate judge now regrets giving him such a lenient sentence, and has denied Lerach credit towards his commmunity service for teaching a law school class, even if he doesn't get paid for the work, reports the National Law Journal. Lerach's chutzpah in asking for the credit is typical of the man, who also chose not to attend the hearing about the service credit, which angered the judge at the outset.

In a sign of how hard the economy is hitting state budgets, Illinois won't pay 60% of its share of salaries for prosecutors, public defenders or tax assessors, reports the ABA Journal.

Originally published