A not guilty plea has been entered by Plains All-American Pipeline and one employee, James Buchanan, in connection with charges filed after the massive Refugio coastal oil spill last year.
The hearing today was before Judge Jean Dandona in Santa Barbara Superior Court.
The criminal grand jury prepared a 2000 page transcript after attorneys held several closed door interviews with witnesses. That led to 46 charges filed by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office.
That transcript remains sealed on the order of Judge Jean Dandona until the case is over. There may be a release of some of the witness names next month, after input from the defense attorney and a ruling from the judge.
Judge Dandona said she was concerned about the pre-trial release of the witness statements and how that might impact jury selection in the case, or a fair trial.
The pipeline break on May 19, 2015 led to the release of from 120-140,000 gallons of oil into onshore land and the off shore marine environment. It was detected all the way down into Los Angeles County.
Plains has also requested for the trial to be moved out of the area. That chang eof venue hearing will be taken up at a September 8.
“The judge is certainly concerned with the time frame and that the case keeps moving and that is what we like to see as well there is a lot of discovery that we need to get accomplished and a lot of motions that will need to be filed. But we are glad to see the case moving forward,” said Kevin Weichbrod, Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney.
On August 11th some of the names of witnesses could be released after a review from the judge and input on privacy issue from the attorneys in this case.
Attorney Barry Cappello is representing land and business owners who said they were impacted by the oil spill. He asked for access to the grand jury statements but Cappello was denied. He is considering an appeal.
“We believe as attorney’s for these victims, we want to hear what these people had to say in front of the Grand Jury because that was under oath.” said Cappello. He is concerned about a statement made in the criminal case that might be different in his interviews with witnesses for the civil case.
There was also an attorney for the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the court as well, and he had questions about documents relating to scientific information gathered after the spill.