Halliburton presses to protect confidential information

Steve Korris Jan. 20, 2012, 3:55am


NEW ORLEANS – BP hired former Halliburton cement engineer Ronald Crook as a last minute substitute for an expert that Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan disqualified for hiring former Halliburton cement engineer Michael Viator.

Halliburton hasn't challenged new expert Ronald Crook, but continues pressing for disqualification of BP attorneys who worked with previous expert Fred Sabins.

"Just as Crook should not have any contact with Sabins' tainted work product, he should not have contact with the attorneys who helped develop that work product," Donald Godwin of Dallas wrote on Jan. 16.

He wrote that Viator had direct knowledge of Halliburton's confidential information and worked directly with Sabins, who in turn worked directly with BP's counsel.

"Once BP received notice of the conflict resulting from Sabins' employment of Viator, it could have erected a wall between the attorneys who worked directly with Sabins and those who would work with the substitute expert," he wrote.

He wrote that attorneys who worked with Sabins currently work with Crook.

"Allowing these attorneys to work as closely with Crook as they did with Sabin frustrates the integrity of the judicial process," he wrote.

Crook faces a sharp learning curve, for U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier plans to start a fault allocation trial on Feb. 27.

BP blames the Deepwater Horizon explosion on the failure of cement that Halliburton Energy Services Inc. supplied.

Court records showed Crook would endure 16 hours of depositions on Jan. 17 and 18.

Shushan allotted six hours to Halliburton, which asked for seven.

She allotted five to the United States, which asked for five and a half.

She allotted two hours and five minutes to a plaintiff steering committee, which asked for four hours and 50 minutes.

She allotted an hour and 15 minutes to rig owner Transocean, which asked for an hour and a half.

She divided an hour and 45 minutes among rig contractors Weatherford, Cameron International, M-I, and Dril-Quip.

She gave BP 30 minutes for rebuttal.

Shushan disqualified Sabins and his firm, CSI Technologies of Houston, on Dec. 8.

Viator had developed software and strategy for Halliburton's defense against BP.

"As to BP, it is a harsh result, but one which is warranted by Mr. Sabins's actions and which is necessary to preserve the integrity of the judicial process," Shushan wrote.

She wrote, "Sabins acted to his, CSI's, and ultimately BP's detriment."

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier affirmed her order on Dec. 16.

Halliburton moved for clarification on Jan. 3, calling on Shushan to disqualify all BP counsel involved with Sabins, CSI, and Viator.

"The attorneys who worked with Sabins and CSI will inevitably taint the substitute expert," Godwin wrote.

"Sabins did not submit an affidavit explaining his actions or the scope of his contact with Viator, and thus the use of HESI's confidential information," he wrote.

He wrote that clarification might avoid any delay of trial scheduling.

BP opposed the motion on Jan. 13, claiming Halliburton should have challenged counsel when it moved to disqualify Sabins.

"Halliburton's delay has all the hallmarks of an attempt to use disqualification of counsel for tactical purposes, and the request should be considered for that reason alone," Don Haycraft of New Orleans wrote.

"Halliburton does not even purport to identify misconduct by any BP attorney that violates ethical standards so as to warrant disqualification.

"Halliburton has not provided any evidence that BP's counsel has actually received any Halliburton confidential information from Sabins.

"Viator had no contact with any of BP's attorneys until his deposition.

"If the attorneys who worked with Sabins are prohibited at this point from working at all on cement issues, or even from working with BP's substitute expert, BP's ability to present a core part of its case against Halliburton will be severely compromised."

Godwin replied, "Sabins made no effort to act in an ethical manner, and when BP learned of Sabins' conduct, it made no effort to distance him from the case or withdraw his opinions.

"Instead, BP fought tooth and nail to utilize Sabins' tainted opinions until this court disqualified him.

"The same can be said for the attorneys who worked with Viator and Sabins.

"After receiving clear and unequivocal evidence that Viator worked with HESI's defense counsel in this litigation, these attorneys failed to erect any kind of wall between themselves and BP's substitute expert."

He wrote that Halliburton doesn't seek Crook's disqualification but seeks adequate protection of its confidential information.

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