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Oil spill case may still go out of the area

The devastating All American Pipeline oil spill last year off the Santa Barbara County coastline could result in a trial, but where it would be held is still up in the air.

46 counts came from a criminal grand jury earlier this year. Three charges were filed against an employee James Buchanon.

NewsChannel 3 was not allowed to shoot video inside Santa Barbara Superior court for this hearing.

Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod said outside of the courtroom, “What Plains moved to do as well as Mr. Buchanon, is to move the venue of this trial or potential trial to another county. In this case they were suggesting LA County or Kern County. Obviously we are objecting to that. We think it is appropriate to have the trial where the crimes were committed or the alleged crimes were committed and to have an impartial and fair jury here in Santa Barbara County.”

The spill gain widespread national attention due to the release of an estimated 140,000 gallons of oil into the soil and ocean waters. Many sea birds and some marine mammals died. Many others were injured.

A large response of local, state and federal officials including the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Office of Emergency Services combined their efforts with Plains to respond. Oil blobs were found miles away along the coastline into Los Angeles County.

Plains has conducted a survey of residents in Santa Barbara County to see if they recall the incident and if they have formed an opinion about the company. In the court discussion it was mentioned that 90 percent of those surveyed were aware of the spill and 60 percent had an opinion against Plains.

The ongoing election was also brought up, because oil issues are at the forefront of some of the major races, including the open seat for the 24th Congressional district where the spill took place. The topic has appeared in TV commercials and in debates.

Santa Barbara County has an estimated 400,000 residents with about 253,000 said to be in the jury pool selection.

A ruling on the change of venue request will be made by Judge Jean Dandona but it could be several weeks away.

If the ruling favors the change of venue, then the judge will have another hearing on where the case would be transferred.

On November 17, all parties have been called back in court for what is expected to be a closed hearing. There, the issue over the Grand Jury proceedings that led to charges, could be challenged.

In all, 46 charges including four felonies were filed against Plains, and three misdemeanors against Buchanon.

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