Citgo contempt ruling reversed - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Citgo contempt ruling reversed

By Theresa Schmidt

An appeal court finds Citgo and its company attorneys are not in contempt of court. 

In November Judge Wilford Carter found Citgo in contempt and attempted to impose sanctions including a $50,000 penalty plus $10,000 dollars a day for failing to provide information to people suing. Several thousand people have claims stemming from the huge oil spill in 2006. And attorneys for about 800 people said the company was stone walling their requests for information and witness testimony. On November 16 plaintiff attorney Wells Watson said, "So far it's been a charade and it's cost our clients time in preparing our case and it's cost us money and time, the justice system, they've ignored orders."

 But now the third circuit finds Citgo is not in contempt and reverses Carter's contempt ruling. A three judge panel finds Citgo did comply with an order to provide "one or more" persons of its choice to appear...."

The ruling says "Plaintiffs...did not demand any specific person or persons be deposed...(so) there are no grounds for...contempt for failure to provide such names."

 Plaintiff attorney Richard Wilson says basically, the ruling means they must go back to court and be more specific about what they want.  "While in our opinion they did not respond to the spirit of our deposition notice, technically they weren't required to produce those 25 names because we didn't specifically ask for those 25 names. So, what we're going to do now is request those names, they'll produce them hopefully, and then we'll go ahead and get these matters set for trial."

 According to court transcripts and filings Citgo attorneys have resisted providing witnesses and information is because of a federal criminal investigation into the spill and employees' rights against self incrimination. Federal prosecutors will neither confirm or deny there's an investigation.

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