Judge delays ex-BP engineer's trial

AP News
Posted: May 17, 2013 4:48 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge in an order Friday agreed to postpone the trial of a former BP engineer charged with deleting text messages about the company's response to its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The judge also had some stern words for attorneys on both sides.

Kurt Mix's trial was scheduled to start June 10, but U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. agreed to reschedule it for Dec. 2 to give Mix's attorneys more time to review millions of government documents related to the case.

Mix, a resident of Katy, Texas, pleaded not guilty last year to two counts of obstruction of justice.

Justice Department prosecutors claim he deliberately deleted more than 200 text messages to and from a supervisor and more than 100 to and from a BP contractor to prevent them from being used in a grand jury's probe of the spill. Mix also allegedly deleted about 40 voicemails from the supervisor and roughly 15 voicemails from the contractor.

In a court filing Friday, Duval also had some firm words for attorneys.

Prosecutors told Duval that a lawyer for Mix emailed a potential government witness and claimed he wouldn't be called to testify if he spoke to defense attorneys.

"The court advised counsel for defendant that such contact constituted overreaching and was not to happen again," the judge wrote, warning of sanctions if it does.

"As an aside," the judge continued, "the court notes that it has never seen such vituperative and condescending behavior and palpable rancor as displayed by some of the attorneys on each side. This court has never seen such a chasm between the parties in a case. Such behavior is not availing for their clients and will not be tolerated in the future."

During a hearing Tuesday, one of Mix's lawyers urged Duval to sanction prosecutors for allegedly withholding evidence in the case. Mix's attorney, Joan McPhee, claimed prosecutors failed to turn over sworn statements by BP executives and a Coast Guard record that rebut allegations Mix tried to mislead the government about the rate that oil was flowing from BP's blown-out well.

Justice Department Derek Cohen denied withholding evidence. He offered to provide Mix's attorneys with unfettered access to a database containing roughly 37 million documents related to the investigation.

They accepted that offer and asked for more time to review the records.