NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A new judge was assigned Wednesday to the case against two BP supervisors charged in the deaths of 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010, after the previous judge disclosed his wife owns stock in one of the contractors.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle didn't immediately recuse himself, but allowed prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit a confidential request for another judge to take the case.
Lemelle said last month that his wife owns stock in Halliburton, a cement contractor on the ill-fated drilling project.
The order reassigning the case to U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. doesn't disclose which party or parties sought Lemelle's disqualification.
The case initially was assigned to U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown, but she recused herself because she worked on civil litigation related to BP's Gulf oil spill when she was the city attorney for New Orleans.
Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine pleaded not guilty last month to manslaughter charges. They are accused of disregarding abnormally high pressure readings that should have been glaring indications of trouble just before the blowout.
Also on Wednesday, Vidrine's attorneys asked a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling that he must submit to an exam by a court-appointed psychiatrist to determine whether he is fit to be questioned under oath for civil litigation spawned by the spill.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't immediately rule after hearing arguments by attorneys for Vidrine and Transocean Ltd., which wants to question the well site leader.
Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling at BP's Macondo well site in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 when a blowout triggered a deadly explosion on the rig and started the nation's worst offshore oil spill.
Vidrine "has critical knowledge of the events that happened at the time the well blew out," Transocean attorney Sean Jordan told the judges. "There is just no doubt that he is a uniquely critical witness in this litigation."
Vidrine's attorneys argued in court papers that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's order is "wrong as a matter of law" and should be vacated. One of his lawyers, Jan Frankowski, urged the 5th Circuit judges to also consider alternatives to an exam by a court-appointed psychiatrist, such as allowing Barbier to review Vidrine's medical records under seal.
"There could be safeguards built in," Frankowski said.
Vidrine's attorneys haven't publicly specified the nature of his medical problems.
Kaluza has asserted his right not to incriminate himself and hasn't testified about his actions on the rig.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.