April 6, 2024
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Plains’ request to seal oil spill transcripts opposed


Prosecutors have filed opposing motions to Plains All American Pipeline’s request to seal the transcripts of its indictment from the Refugio oil spill.

The motion claims that Plains did not give the public sufficient time — at least 10 days before the June 2 hearing date — for the public to process the request. Grand jury transcripts may be sealed if they preclude the defendants’ right to a fair trial but, given the publicity, civil action and formal administrative reports since the May 19, 2015 spill, the release of transcripts “will create little or no additional risk of an unfair or partial trial,” the motion filed by Keller Rohrback, Cappello & Noel and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein reads.

“This is a case where the public interest in public records far outweighs any imagined prejudice to the defendant,” the motion filed on June 9 reads.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office and the Office of the California Attorney General also filed a counter motion.

They are responding to Plains’ May 27 motion to seal all California grand jury proceedings, including all pleadings and exhibits until the trial is over. Plains claims that the transcript may impede a fair and impartial trial as well as violate the privacy rights of grand jury witnesses and “unindicted individuals.”

Plains claims that the name of the Plains employee who was indicted, James Buchanan, should’ve remained undisclosed to the public.

The indictment contains 46 counts, four of which are felonies. A federal investigation is ongoing. The arraignment was continued until June 30 and the hearing on the motion to seal is set for June 16. The DA and AG have also asked to continue the hearing on the motion to give the public enough time to “consider and respond.”

In related news, the court ordered Plains on June 8 to issue notices to claimants who have signed settlement agreements that essentially waived their rights. It has 14 days from the court order to issue the curative notices.

Plains was issuing settlements to victims of the spill with the stipulation that it wouldn’t have to pay future claims. Judge Philip Gutierrez ruled on March 3 that the Oil Protection Act enacted after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 did not intend to force victims to choose between partial payment now and full payment later.

• Contact Alex Kacik at akacik@pacbiztimes.com.