Friday, March 24 , 2017, 6:32 am | Fair 46º


Local News

Grand Jury Witness List Remains Sealed in Oil-Spill Criminal Case Against Plains Pipeline Co.

Whose testimony convinced a Santa Barbara County criminal grand jury to hand down four felony and 42 misdemeanor indictments against Plains All American Pipeline for the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill? 

That remained an unanswered question Thursday as the witness list for the indictment hearings was kept sealed after a closed session in Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona’s courtroom.

Plains, which operates the Line 901 pipeline along the Gaviota Coast that ruptured and caused the Refugio Oil Spill, faces 46 criminal charges related to the spill after being indicted in May.

The grand jury testimony was ordered sealed until the case is adjudicated, but Dandona initially ordered the witness list unsealed pending Thursday’s hearing.

After the 55-minute hearing, which was closed to the public and the press, Santa Barbara County deputy district attorney Kevin Weichbrod said Dandona continued the stay and will make a final decision – to keep the list sealed or not – by the next hearing.

Plains has pleaded not guilty to the charges, as has employee James Buchanan, who was charged with three misdemeanors related to the spill.

Buchanan is an environmental and regulatory compliance specialist.

Attorneys for Plains filed a motion to move the criminal trial out of Santa Barbara County, saying there was “highly prejudicial publicity in Santa Barbara making it impossible for Plains to receive a fair and impartial trial here.”

They asked for the trial to be moved to Kern or Los Angeles counties and the hearing on that motion is scheduled for Sept. 22.

Weichbrod said the District Attorney’s Office is looking through documents filed by Plains and will be filing an opposition to the motion.

Plains has also substituted its attorney, with court paperwork filed by Gary Lincenberg of the Los Angeles firm Bird, Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow PC.  

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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