Friday, May 23, 2008

To Plead Or Not To Plead

I read a very small article out of New Zealand this morning which kind of interested me -- the story reported an oil company there pleaded guilty in an oil spill --

NEW PLYMOUTH, NEW ZEALAND: Australian Worldwide Exploration (AWE) Ltd. and Prosafe will plead guilty to spilling 23,000 litres (6,072 gallons) of oil into New Zealand waters off the Taranaki coast last October, according to local media reports.

I was fascinated, I think, by this idea that a company would plead guilty. Of all the articles I've read, that doesn't happen here. There are settlements and there are fights -- but here, there is something refreshing about executives standing up and saying "Guilty."

So I did one of those strange Google searches -- "oil, courts, plead, US."

What I found was a little disquieting too. I found two separate official documents -- one from the justice department and another from the EPA -- two different cases of shipping companies plead guilty for intentionally dumping sludge.

"The National Navigation Company (NNC) pleaded guilty and was sentenced today in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon for 15 felony charges, the Justice Department announced."

"An American-based ship operator, Pacific-Gulf Marine, Inc. (PGM), has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges that it engaged in deliberate acts of pollution involving a fleet of four ships in violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, the Justice Department announced today."

From what I read earlier this month it sounds like that is happening all the time.

But the idea of responsibility...

"The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear Exxon Mobil's plea to reduce the $2.5 billion fine handed out after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The company, who say they shouldn't be held responsible for the drunken driving of ship captain Joseph Hazelwood, calls the punishment unconstitutionally excessive." Wired.

Back to The History of Standard Oil:

While none of the other members of the Standard Oil Company examined in 1879 was quite so sweeping in his denials, all of them evaded direct answers. The reason they gave for this evasion was that the investigations were an interference with their rights as private citizens, and that the government had no business to inquire into their methods. Consequently when asked questions they refused to answer "by advice of counsel." Ultimately the gentlemen did answer a great many questions. But taking the testimony all in all through these years it certainly is a mild characterisation to say that it totally lacks in frankness. The testimony of the Standard officials before the Hepburn Commission was so evasive that the committee in making its report spoke bitterly of the company as "a mysterious organisation whose business and transactions are of such a character that its members decline giving a history or description of it lest this testimony be used to convict them of a crime."

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