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Santa Barbara Judge Denies Plains Motions in Refugio Oil Spill Criminal Case

The criminal trial against Plains All American Pipeline will move forward after Superior Court Judge Jean Dandona on Tuesday denied Plains motions to set aside the indictment, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Dandona did dismiss one misdemeanor count against James Buchanan, a Plains employee who is a co-defendant with the oil and gas pipeline company in the criminal case related to the Refugio Oil Spill.

A 24-inch Plains crude oil pipeline ruptured May 19, 2015 and spilled 123,228 gallons onto the coastline and into the ocean near Refugio State Beach. 

Plains faces 46 felony and misdemeanor charges, and Buchanan now faces two misdemeanor charges.

Last month, Dandona denied Plains’ motion to move the case out of Santa Barbara County.

The latest ruling deals with “995” motions filed by Plains defense attorneys challenging the sufficiency of evidence produced during the grand jury proceedings that led to the indictment, as well as procedural issues.

Dandona’s ruling means the case is still going forward, said Kevin Weichbrod of the District Attorney’s Office, one of the prosecutors.

There is a readiness and settlement conference scheduled for March 2 and trial dates could be chosen then, or maybe at a later date to “let everyone digest the ruling,” Weichbrod said.

One of the motions that had arguments in open court was Plains’ claim that some of the charges that deal with the taking of wildlife – Fish and Game code violations from animal deaths allegedly due to the oil spill – didn’t apply to inadvertent takings like an oil spill, but the judge disagreed, Weichbrod said.

Plains All American Pipeline has pleaded not guilty to 46 charges, including four felonies and 42 misdemeanors, that allege the company discharged a pollutant into state waters, knowingly made a false or misleading oil report to the California Office of Emergency Services, failed to notify the National Response Center within one hour after confirmation of a pipeline release, and violated Fish and Game code by taking protected and migratory birds, and other animals (which died as a result of of the spill).

Buchanan, an environmental and regulatory compliance specialist for Plains, has pleaded not guilty to failing to immediately notify authorities after confirming the spill and its source.

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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