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Ex-BP well managers must face Gulf spill criminal charges

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[January 29, 2014]  By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters)  Two former BP Plc <BP.L> well site managers have failed to win the dismissal of involuntary manslaughter charges over their roles in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster, which killed 11 people.

In a decision late Monday, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval in New Orleans rejected the argument by Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine that the laws under which they were charged were unconstitutionally vague because they lacked a clear "standard of care" that had been violated.

"Taking the facts as alleged in the indictment as true," Duval wrote, "it is difficult to find that any person would not be apprised that general negligent conduct, much less grossly negligent conduct, in this matter would not be sanctioned," particularly given "the inherent danger in deepwater drilling."

Prosecutors accused Kaluza and Vidrine of failing to properly supervise a "negative test" meant to keep gases and fluids from entering the Macondo well, and failing to contact onshore engineers upon learning of "serious warning signs" that the well was not secure.

Shaun Clarke, a lawyer representing Kaluza, and Robert Habans, a lawyer representing Vidrine, declined to comment.

The office of U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite in New Orleans was not immediately available to comment.

Kaluza and Vidrine face a June 2 trial on 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count alleging a Clean Water Act violation.

They had faced 23 counts, but Duval on December 10 dismissed 11 counts of ship officers' manslaughter, saying the defendants had no navigation functions in their jobs.

Prosecutors have until February 10 to appeal that ruling.

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The well blowout and explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010, led to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Two other people were criminally charged over the disaster.

A federal jury found former BP engineer Kurt Mix guilty on December 18 of obstruction of justice after prosecutors said he destroyed text and voice messages over oil spillage. Mix is seeking a new trial. His sentencing is scheduled for March 26.

David Rainey, BP's former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, faces a March 10 trial on charges of obstruction of Congress and making false statements to investigators about the spill.

The case is U.S. v. Kaluza et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 12-cr-00265.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Andre Grenon)

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