Federal Judge Reconsiders BP's $50 Million Blast Plea

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Federal Judge Reconsiders BP's $50 Million Blast Plea

HOUSTON -- Victims of the BP's 2005 Texas Refinery explosion are awaiting a decision from a federal judge who will determine whether the standing $50 million fine will adequately resolve criminal liability.

"I'm not telling you what the fine should be. That's not my business," the Houston Chronicle quoted U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal as saying during the hearing. "This is just to make sure it is not unreasonably low."

Rosenthal must either accept or reject the plea deal that was reached last October. Her deliberations center on the economic losses of the 15 people who died as
well as 35 victims. She will not, however, consider noneconomic losses, such as payments to settle civil litigation that compensated for mental anguish or pain and suffering, reported the paper.

While she scheduled a hearing for Oct. 7, the plea deal reached between the company's North American products division, which oversees U.S. refineries, requires BP to be found guilty of a felony violation of the Clean Air Act. The deal would also require the company to be on probation for three years.

The controversial case includes victims appealing to Rosenthal and the court to throw out the judgment entirely as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled in May that the deal was reached in violation of blast victims' rights to be consulted under a 2004 law, reported the paper. The court, however, has given Rosenthal the final say, a move that would forgo the case being thrown out of court.

BP lawyer Mark Holscher told the Houston Chronicle the company will cooperate with victims' lawyers in providing the information requested by Rosenthal but added that the rules are different in civil and criminal courts.

According to Holcher, a burden of proof is required in order to accept or reject the plea deal. To this end, he said Rosenthal must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that victims are entitled to monies above the standing agreement.

Rosenthal said she is simply gathering information to assist in the evaluation of the proposed $50 million fine. "The victims have raised the challenge. It is my obligation to consider that challenge," she told the paper.