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LONDON -- The federal judge presiding over BP Plc's Texas refinery blast prosecution has stepped down after victims attacked a U.S. plea agreement, callling it "shockingly lenient," and accused the judge of having a conflict of interest, Bloomberg reported.
The victims' lawyer, David Perry, said he will ask the new judge to award $2 billion for claims related to the blast, instead of the $50 million provided for under the initial plea deal. He also argued in court papers filed in Houston that U.S. District Judge Gray Miller should remove himself since he worked for BP's law firm at the time of the 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers. Miller stepped aside on Nov. 20, the report stated.
"BP has a prior history of terrible misconduct, and that ought to form the basis" for increasing the fine to the federal maximum of twice the criminal proceeds, Perry said in an interview with Bloomberg. The victims claim that London-based BP earned $1 billion from the plant in the 14 months leading up to the blast.
BP agreed last month to plead guilty to exposing workers to toxic emissions during the Texas City explosion, trying to corner the propane-trading market, and spilling 200,000 gallons of oil from corroded Alaskan pipelines. The plea bargain, with combined fines of $373 million, will end BP's federal criminal liability from the blast and the spills, according to the Bloomberg report.
The explosion, which injured hundreds, occurred on March 23, 2005, when an octane-boosting unit overflowed as it was being restarted following repairs. Gasoline vapors spewed into an inadequate vent system, igniting a blast that destroyed windows five miles away.
The BP case has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge David Hittner.