A federal judge says he'll let a former BP engineer share confidential company documents with prosecutors -- who accused him of destroying records of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill -- in an attempt to clear his name.
Kurt Mix says BP records will clear him of any wrongdoing, but those records are covered by the company's attorney-client privilege. In an order issued Tuesday, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled that Mix can share the documents only with federal prosecutors, and under limited circumstances.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval concluded that letting Mix show prosecutors those records wouldn't eliminate BP's right to keep other documents confidential -- and he ordered that the Justice Department can't use them "in any investigation or litigation" against the company.
Mix has been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in the first criminal case stemming from the 2010 disaster. The Justice Department says he deleted text messages he had been ordered to save, including one that concluded the undersea gusher that erupted on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico was far worse than reported at the time.
BP said it would have no comment on the ruling, while Mix's lawyer didn't return a phone call seeking comment. There was no response from the Justice Department -- but in court papers filed in May, prosecutors discounted Mix's assertion that the documents would provide "compelling and unambiguous" evidence of his innocence.
"It does not appear from the defendant's description of the information he seeks to use that the information actually concerns his deletion of texts," they wrote.
Duval wrote that he reviewed the documents in his chambers, and that they "may indeed provide evidence that could lead a reasonable juror to find that Mix did not have the requisite dishonest intent to convict him on these charges." But he said it was "impossible at this time" to decide whether they could be used as evidence in Mix's trial, currently set for February.
BP had assigned Mix to help estimate the size of the 2010 spill, ultimately calculated at nearly 5 million barrels of crude. Prosecutors said one of the messages investigators recovered from his phone included "real-time flow-rate analysis" during an effort to plug the damaged well -- data that contradicted the company's public statements about the ongoing disaster. The size of the spill will determine what penalties BP ends up paying for the disaster, which began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drill rig that killed 11 workers.
In April, BP announced that it had reached an estimated at $7.8 billion settlement with thousands of businesses and individuals who filed damage claims in the wake of the spill. A federal criminal investigation of the disaster is ongoing.