On February 25, 2016, after less than two hours of deliberations, the federal court jury in New Orleans found the BP well site leader Robert Kaluza not guilty of violating the Clean Water Act. The verdict concludes nearly six years of the government prosecution of Mr. Kaluza, who has been represented since May 2010 by SKV partners Shaun Clarke and Dane Ball.
“The jury has spoken. And what the jury said is Bob Kaluza is not guilty as accused,” said Clarke. “It is a complete vindication of an honorable man who spent decades of his life in this hard work and who refused to give into the government’s charges, no matter the pressure and difficulties it presented to his life.”
In 2012, the government filed 23 federal criminal charges against Mr. Kaluza, who had been assigned to the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig a day before an explosion on the rig on April 20, 2010 killed 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The government’s charges included 11 counts alleging simple negligent manslaughter; 11 counts alleging gross negligent manslaughter; and 1 count alleging negligent water pollution under the Clean Water Act.
The defense team obtained a significant victory in December 2013 to dismiss most of the charges on legal grounds. Following an oral argument by Ball, the district court dismissed the 11 felony counts alleging simple negligent manslaughter because the statute—18 U.S.C. § 1115, sometimes called “seaman’s manslaughter”—applies only to those working in marine operations, not to those working in drilling operations. Since another company was the operator of the marine operations, Mr. Kaluza, who worked on the drilling side of the rig, could not be liable under a statute that only applied to marine operations. Clarke then argued the case to a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel that unanimously affirmed the dismissal in March 2015.
Believing that the government still overreached in its legal case against Mr. Kaluza, the defense team then made legal arguments to dismiss the 11 remaining counts alleging gross negligent manslaughter, arguing jurisdictional and other pleading defects. After those motions were filed, on December 2, 2015, the Department of Justice voluntarily requested dismissal of the 11 remaining manslaughter charges. The district court granted that motion.
Trial on the remaining Clean Water Act count – the single remaining charge out of the government’s original 23 – then began February 16, 2016. During the nearly two-week trial, Clarke and Ball presented evidence that Mr. Kaluza not only acted as a reasonably prudent well site leader, but also did not cause the blowout. Clarke and Ball tried the case, along with David Gerger of Quinn Emanuel, and SKV partner David Isaak led the legal briefing before and during trial. In addition, SKV partner Chris Bryan, of counsel Kristin Adler, and associate Alex Wolf all played key roles on the defense team and contributed to the outcome in favor of Mr. Kaluza.
The verdict not only ends years of litigation but most important, clears the name of an innocent man who had the courage to stand up to a federal government that never should have indicted him.