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Revealed: Judge who overturned Obama’s offshore moratorium owned drilling stocks

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 15:56 EDT
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Update: Same judge denies stay on drill ban ruling; Report: Gulf state judges’ hands tied by oil industry interests

LATEST: Judge reportedly receiving death threats, claims pro-drilling, conservative radio host

According to Jeff Crouere at Bayou Buzz, US District Court Judge Martin Feldman “is now receiving death threats in the aftermath of his bold ruling.”

Last night, Feldman served as a celebrity judge at a cooking contest at a school gymnasium in Uptown New Orleans. Due to the threats, Feldman was accompanied by a federal marshal security team.

It is a sad indictment of our society today that a judge with such a sterling record of integrity and service to his country would be subject to such threats. Feldman was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1983. Today, he is in the eye of a political hurricane unlike anything he has ever experienced.

….

Much of the sensational reporting on Feldman’s investments was based on outdated information. The Judge was blasted for owning stock in Transocean, Ltd and Halliburton, two of the major companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Feldman owned those stocks in 2008; however, he sold those shares long before issuing his ruling this week. In fact, this updated information will be released in the next report on his stock holdings.

If Feldman held financial interests in any of companies involved in the lawsuit or the Deepwater Horizon rig, he would not have been allowed the take the case. The 5th District Court uses a sophisticated computer system to check whether judges have a conflict of interest in any legal proceeding. This system automatically determines whether a judge needs to be recused from a particular case. In this lawsuit, Feldman was allowed to take the case because he did not own any stock related to the parties involved.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Crouere “has held several positions within the Louisiana Republican Party, formerly including executive director. In 1995, Crouere unsuccessfully ran for a seat at the Louisiana Legislature against Democratic incumbent Mitch Landrieu.”

Last August, Crouere attacked Obama for attempting to transform the US into a “European style socialist nation.”

A Wall Street Journal article on partiality charges against Feldman notes,

In a current civil case against Transocean before Feldman, the judge raised the issue himself, noting that he had holdings in Ocean Energy Inc. He asked whether the company had ties to Transocean that would present a conflict.

In a May 24 order, Feldman put the matter to bed at least in his mind, saying he had been advised that Ocean is not owned by Transocean Inc., and “accordingly, the court’s ownership of stock in Ocean Energy does not raise a conflict of interest in the present litigation.”

Requests for comment to Feldman weren’t returned.

“The Obama administration was dealt a minor setback on Thursday when a local judge denied its attempts to legally continue a moratorium on deepwater drilling as the issue continues to be litigated in court,” Sam Stein reports for Huffington Post.

The same judge who ruled this week that the administration’s temporary ban was illegal denied the Justice Department’s attempt for a “stay” on the ban Thursday morning.

The administration had hoped that by upholding a stay, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman would have given it time to re-craft the language of the moratorium, which Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has pledged to do. With the stay request denied, those 33 deepwater wells that had put a stop to their operations can now legally begin drilling again.

Bloomberg News adds,

“The defendants’ motion to stay pending appeal is hereby denied for the same reasons given in this court’s June 22, 2010, order granting the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction,” Feldman wrote in today’s ruling. Feldman said in the earlier decision that the ban was too broad and would cause “irreparable harm” to offshore oil-service companies.

In an article titled Judges’ hands tied by oil industry interests, Carol J. Williams reports for the LA Times,

Recusals in oil industry cases have become so common among the judges that the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last month left in limbo a landmark case brought by Hurricane Katrina victims because the court couldn’t muster a quorum to review it. Eight of the circuit’s 17 judges stepped down because of financial interests in the oil, gas and chemical companies being sued for alleged culpability in global warming.

The 5th Circuit, encompassing Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, would be the venue for the Obama administration’s expected appeal of Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of Louisiana that struck down the government’s six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling.

Feldman recently filed a financial disclosure statement for 2009, but it won’t be available to the public until the judge has a chance to request redactions, said Richard Carelli, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Judges are required by federal law to step down from cases in which they own even one share of stock in a company that is party to a case before them. None of Feldman’s 2008 holdings are known to include the oil service support companies that sought to quash the government moratorium.

“As the gulf spill litigation moves forward, though, both federal district judges and those on the 5th Circuit appeals court will be called upon to decide whether their financial interests might cast doubts on their impartiality, legal analysts say,” the paper notes.

Original article follows:

“The federal judge who overturned Barack Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium appears to own stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry—including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico—according to 2008 financial disclosure reports,” Yahoo News reports.

According to Feldman’s 2008 financial disclosure form, posted online by Judicial Watch [pdf], the judge owned stock in Transocean, as well as five other companies that are either directly or indirectly involved in the offshore drilling business.

It’s not surprising that Feldman, who is a judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has invested in the offshore drilling business—an AP investigation found earlier this month that more than half the federal judges in the districts affected by the BP spill have financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

The report discloses that in 2008, Judge Feldman held less than $15,000 worth of stock in Transocean, as well as similar amounts—federal rules only require that judges report a range of values—in Hercules Offshore, ATP Oil and Gas, and Parker Drilling. All of those companies offer contract offshore drilling services and operate offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Judge Feldman also owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in notes offered by Ocean Energy, Inc., a company that offers “concept design and manufacturing design of submersible drilling rigs,” according to its web site. None of the companies were direct parties to the lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban.

Link to Judicial Watch pdf

Original story follows:

US judge blocks Gulf deepwater drilling freeze

A US judge Tuesday ruled against a six-month freeze imposed on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, in a blow to the White House which immediately said it would appeal.

District judge Martin Feldman ruled in favor of 32 oil firms which challenged the moratorium on deepwater drilling and exploration imposed by President Barack Obama in the wake of the massive Gulf oil spill.

Feldman ruled the oil firms’ motion for a “preliminary injunction is granted,” saying he was persuaded it was in the public interest to lift the freeze by the Minerals Management Service and the Interior Department.

“The court has found the plaintiffs would likely succeed in showing that the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious,” Feldman said in his written ruling after Monday’s hearing in a New Orleans court.

Describing the drilling decision as “invalid,” Feldman said the moratorium would effect employment and energy supplies and “will clearly ripple throughout the economy in this region.”

The agency decision “simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.”

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “We will immediately appeal to the fifth circuit.”

“The president strongly believes, as the Department of Interior, Department of Justice argued yesterday, that continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened is — does not make any sense.”

The drilling “potentially puts the safety of those on the rigs and environment of the Gulf at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford right now.”

With oil still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, Obama has slapped a freeze on new deepwater drilling until late November and curtailed parts of the offshore oil industry.

But oil workers and executives along the southern US coast criticized the moves, which they say are driving business out of the Gulf and costing them their livelihoods.

Carl Rosenblum, an attorney for some of the offshore oil companies, said in Monday’s hearing it was unprecedented that an entire industry should be punished.

“Nothing we are asking for is contrary to safety,” he said, arguing the moratorium will have a domino effect with some companies already eyeing moves to Brazil and Africa rather than sit idle.

“There’s an ecosystem of businesses that are being harmed every day by this moratorium,” he insisted, in reference to the damage being caused by the millions of gallons of oil washing up along fragile southern US shores.

Government lawyer Guillermo Montero replied that deepwater drilling was more complicated than many other industries and the government had to review and, if necessary, update its safety protocols.

“The Deepwater Horizon incident was a game-changer. It really showed the risks inherent in deepwater drilling,” he said.

Hornbeck Offshore Services, which first filed the case, says the Obama administration’s directive to halt drilling at 33 existing oil wells in the Gulf was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion” and inconsistent with regulations governing the industry.

It also says the restrictions were imposed without any proof that wells drilling beyond 500 feet (152 meters) presented any threat of a systemic failure such as the one that caused the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig to explode on April 20, triggering the disastrous leak.

(with additional reporting by RAW STORY)

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