Rusty Hardin wins on behalf of company charged criminally after Harvey flooding
HOUSTON – In a total victory for Arkema Inc. and company executives, a Harris County judge has thrown out all remaining criminal charges relating to an incident that occurred at the Arkema plant in Crosby during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
The decision to find the company and its executives not guilty came following a hearing before Judge Belinda Hill at NRG Arena in Houston on Thursday.
“The Harris County District Attorney tried to criminalize a natural disaster for political purposes. Today, justice is finally done,” said attorney Rusty Hardin of Rusty Hardin & Associates, who along with firm partner Jennifer Brevorka represented Arkema in the case. “The state’s incompetence in handling this criminal case put Arkema and three of its executives through three years of excruciating stress. In my career, I have never seen such rampant prosecutorial misconduct and ignorance in handling a criminal case.”
“It was incredibly irresponsible and inappropriate for the DA to have retained outside special prosecutors who had never tried a criminal case nor served as prosecutors. I salute and deeply believe in the profession of prosecution. But it should never be placed in the hands of lawyers who have never been a prosecutor trained in the duty to seek justice rather than a conviction at all costs. The fate of the criminally accused and the fate of the fair administration of justice call for prosecutors who recognize their ethical and moral duties,” he said.
Arkema and its corporate executives were charged following the 2017 hurricane, which dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston and the surrounding area. More than six feet of water flooded Arkema’s Crosby plant and cut off power to the refrigerated warehouses where the organic peroxides were stored. Arkema’s heroic ride out crew transferred the product to refrigerated trailers, but even that was unsuccessful. After they were forced to abandon the site, taken by boat over 6-foot fences, the fire department and law enforcement praised Arkema for cooperating and doing everything they could to warn and protect the public as they waited for the product to ignite. It was a day and a half after those warnings that a fire did break out.
The company, CEO Richard Rowe, Crosby Facility Manager Leslie Comardelle, and former company Vice President Michael Keough all saw their charges dropped, either by a mid-trial request of the prosecutors or by a directed verdict from the judge. The charges the prosecutors themselves asked be dismissed were the ridiculous and unprecedented charges accusing the company and Mr. Keough, who was in Pennsylvania during Hurricane Harvey, of reckless “assault by words.”
“As a measure of how the jury reacted to the evidence, at the conclusion of the trial, jurors gave the individual defendants an ovation of applause. Jurors told our team that they would have quickly found all the defendants not guilty if they had been able to vote,” Mr. Hardin said.
“We applaud the courage of Judge Belinda Hill in issuing the directed verdicts in three of the five charges,” he said. “Judge Hill ruled that the state had presented no evidence of guilt under their indictment, and that as a matter of law, a verdict of not guilty was necessary.”
In addition to Mr. Hardin and Ms. Brevorka, Arkema and the various defendants were represented by Dan Cogdell and Cordt Akers of Cogdell Law Firm; Tim Johnson and Nick Dickerson of Locke Lord; Paul Nugent and Heather Peterson of Nugent & Peterson; Letitia Quinones of Quinones & Associates; and Derek Hollingsworth of Drumheller Hollingsworth & Monthy. The in-house team of Bill Hamel, Lisa Brody and Eric Tilles also represented Arkema.
Rusty Hardin & Associates, LLP has built a solid reputation for taking on the causes of its clients and obtaining favorable results in commercial litigation, white-collar criminal defense, personal injury, appellate, and general civil and criminal litigation. For more information, please visit http://www.rustyhardin.com/.