Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 2:49 pm | A Few Clouds 62º


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.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >