Order disqualifying BP expert filed under seal

Steve Korris Dec. 20, 2011, 12:59am


NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan apparently kicked out of court an engineer who switched sides from BP to Halliburton in Deepwater Horizon litigation, but her exact action and her reasons remain secret.

On Dec. 8, she signed and sealed an order on a motion to disqualify Michael Viator as an expert in computer modeling of the rig explosion and the oil spill that followed.

Viator quit Halliburton in March and joined BP consultant CSI Technologies.

Shushan's order must have favored Halliburton, because BP moved four days later to designate a substitute expert.

The motion compounded the mystery, for Shushan sealed it at BP's request.

BP objected to Shushan's order on Dec. 13, and asked U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to overturn it.

Barbier sealed the brief at BP's request.

Halliburton responded on Dec. 15, and Barbier sealed the brief at Halliburton's request.

On Dec. 16, Halliburton responded to BP's motion to designate a substitute.

Shushan sealed the brief at Halliburton's request.

Later that day, Barbier affirmed Shushan's disqualification order.

He wrote that upon review of the record, he found Shushan's order was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

The dispute started in public on Nov. 15, when Halliburton moved to disqualify Viator, CSI Technologies, and CSI owner Fred Sabins.

Halliburton lawyer Donald Godwin of Dallas wrote that Viator revealed confidential information to Sabins and CSI.

Godwin wrote that Viator created computer models and assisted Halliburton counsel in formulating strategies.

He wrote that Viator transferred electronic files to a thumb drive that he kept.

"Shortly after Viator began working for CSI and Sabins, BP suddenly turned its attention to gaining access to HESI's proprietary software and the data inputs," he wrote.

"BP's abrupt focus on accessing HESI's modeling software was occasioned by Viator's disclosure of HESI's work product, his post incident modeling."

BP responded on Nov. 23, but blacked out sensitive sentences.

On Nov. 30, Halliburton claimed BP didn't dispute its main allegations.

Godwin wrote that CSI and BP failed to address how Viator was assigned to access Halliburton's software or why his name was on a visitor list.

"An expert cannot switch sides over the protests of the first retaining party," he wrote.

"BP seeks to hold HESI responsible for the largest oil spill in history," he wrote.

BP, Halliburton and other defendants seek to minimize their liabilities by shifting blame to other defendants.

BP claims Halliburton botched the cementing of the rig, and Halliburton claims BP brought disaster on itself.

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