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Ex-BP Engineer Criminal Trial Over Spill-Size Data Postponed

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Jan. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The trial of a former BP Plc engineer charged with destroying evidence sought for a U.S. probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill will be postponed to June 10, a judge said.

Kurt Mix, who was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text-message strings from his mobile phone, had been facing a Feb. 25 trial date, the same day another federal judge in New Orleans is scheduled to begin a trial over liability for the spill.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval in New Orleans postponed the Mix trial today, citing the volume and complexity of documents in the obstruction of justice case.

“I need some time to establish categories of documents that I can rule on,” to determine what is “relevant, not relevant, whatever the objections may be,” Duval said in a hearing.

The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf. It also set off hundreds of lawsuits against BP, its partners and contractors on the project.

Mix worked on BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the Macondo well. The two counts of the indictment concern text messages between him and the contractor and another string with his supervisor. Mix’s prosecution was the first criminal case to arise from the 2010 spill.

Since his arrest in April, BP and Transocean Ltd. have pleaded guilty to criminal charges over the spill.

Criminal Counts

BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal counts including 11 for felony manslaughter related to the 11 deaths that occurred when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank. The company also pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act, one misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and one felony count of obstruction of Congress.

Transocean, the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig, pleaded guilty this month to one misdemeanor violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Two BP well-site managers were charged with involuntary manslaughter and a former executive was charged with obstruction and false statements.

Duval also heard arguments today from Mix’s lawyers that he produced “smoking gun” documents that federal prosecutors used to charge BP and senior vice president David Rainey with lying to Congress about flow rate estimates from the broken Macondo well in 2010.

“I’m not necessarily interested in every document he tried to preserve,” Duval said today. Duval took “under advisement” Mix’s motion asking the court to find that the defendant had provided the evidence the U.S. used in its claims against BP and Rainey.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-00171, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit at mcfisk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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