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Complex legal battle over OC oil spill begins to take shape in federal court – Orange County Register


Lawyers from well-connected local and high-power law firms showed up at a Santa Ana courthouse on Wednesday as a federal judge began to set the stage for a complex legal battle over the recent pipeline breach that leaked 25,000 gallons of oil into the sea. Orange County.

With 14 civil lawsuits involving at least 22 law firms already filed in federal court since the early October oil spill off Huntington Beach, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter is considering deciding which attorneys should take the reins. as lead counsel in the top-profile case. This decision will allow a combined class action lawsuit to move forward even as the cleanup and investigations into the origins of the spill are underway.

Carter, who has made headlines in recent years for presiding over lawsuits over the treatment of homeless people in Southern California, said he was looking for attorneys who have both deep local ties and the legal resources to handle what should be a particularly complicated civil case. Case.

“I’m looking for that real devotion to Orange County and Los Angeles County and this 800-pound gorilla,” the judge said of the law firms.

The judge also made it clear that he wanted to act quickly, ideally within two years, in order to avoid years and years of endless litigation.

Previous oil spill complaints have been filed on behalf of homeowners, businesses and local groups who allege improper maintenance of an undersea pipeline has resulted in pollution of public beaches and damage to public beaches. private property along the coast. Civilian cases targeted Amplify Energy Corp and its subsidiaries, including the San Pedro Bay Pipeline Company, which operated the pipeline, and Beta Offshore, which operated the oil rigs.

Legal documents allege the pipeline ruptured on or around October 2, with oil leaking from a crack or split in ocean waters five miles from the Huntington Beach shore. The beaches and harbors of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point were closed for nine days.

Amplify Energy’s potential guilt in the spill remains unresolved.

In their legal documents, lawyers acknowledged that the cause of the spill is still under investigation by the US Coast Guard and the FBI. Investigators would examine the possibility that an anchor or anchors from one or more commercial vessels may have struck the pipeline.

Previously filed lawsuits have called into question pipeline maintenance, as well as how quickly pipeline operators responded to its failure.

The significance of the spill and the resulting legal actions was evident from the combined experience of the environmental attorneys who appeared before Carter. The group included lawyers involved in litigation related to a wide variety of environmental disasters, including numerous forest fires, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Refugio oil spill, the groundwater contamination dramatized in the movie “Erin Brockovich “and Aliso Canyon gas. to flee.

Several lawyers told the judge on Wednesday that the accelerated time frame with which he wants to move forward would almost certainly force them to at least initially rely on their own investigations rather than wait for government reports on the cause of the spill. .

In questioning the lawyers, Carter made it clear how complex the legal battle would be, while warning them that he would “push hard.”

Carter said lawyers handling the case may have to juggle the potentially competing desires of state and local authorities. He also noted that companies might have to seek evidence or take depositions in foreign countries, or deal with choosing the right bankruptcy attorney court, if Amplify Energy or its subsidiaries decide to file for bankruptcy.

The judge also pointed out that lawyers will have to decide how to balance the pursuit of monetary penalties, which would mean money for their clients, with an injunction that could lead to changes in the operations of oil pipelines or platforms. -forms and potentially improve public safety.

Companies hoping to take the lead in the matter have already formed their own coalitions, several of which included local companies with closer ties to Orange County and larger companies with more resources at the Orange County level. State or national. Carter said he could accept one of these already formed coalitions or suggest one of his own.

Lawyers for Kirkland & Ellis, who represent Amplify, agreed with the judge that it would be helpful to have a lead lawyer to handle the various lawsuits, adding that “we want this resolved”.

Carter hasn’t set a specific timeline for when he expects to pick the lead lawyer (s).