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.
Watch the Arkema Press Conference.
“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 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 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 and were taken by boat over six-foot fences, the fire department and law enforcement praised Arkema for cooperating and doing everything it could to warn and protect the public as Arkema 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 midtrial request of the prosecutors or by a directed verdict from the judge. The charges the prosecutors themselves asked to 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,” Mr. Hardin said. “Jurors told our team that they would have quickly found all the defendants not guilty if they had been able to vote.”
“We applaud the courage of Judge Belinda Hill in issuing the directed verdicts in three of the five charges. 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.”
Finally, the lead trial lawyer had specific praise for the jury. “It speaks so highly of our civil justice system that this jury first heard testimony for a month, then took a six-month hiatus because of the pandemic and then — all 12 jurors and one alternate — returned, only to endure social distancing and a trial held in a convention hall and never lost focus or their sense of commitment.”
In addition to Mr. Hardin and Ms. Brevorka, Arkema was represented by Letitia Quinones of Quinones & Associates, and Derek Hollingsworth of Drumheller Hollingsworth & Monthy. The other defendants were represented by Dan Cogdell and Cordt Akers of Cogdell Law Firm, Tim Johnson and Nick Dickerson of Locke Lord, and Paul Nugent and Heather Peterson of Nugent & Peterson. The in-house team of Bill Hamel, Lisa Brody, and Eric Tilles also represented Arkema.