NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge on Thursday ordered lawyers for a former BP engineer to refrain from any further contact with jurors who convicted the engineer of trying to obstruct a federal probe of the company’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Kurt Mix’s attorneys have said they interviewed some jurors after the Dec. 18 verdict and found evidence of juror misconduct that warrants a new trial.
In Thursday’s order, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said he is concerned about the “appropriateness” of lawyers interviewing jurors without his permission. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has “expressed general hostility toward the practice of post-trial juror interviews,” the judge noted.
Duval instructed Mix’s attorneys and Justice Department prosecutors to submit written arguments by Jan. 24 on whether the defense lawyers’ contact with jurors should affect their motion for a new trial. Duval is set to hear arguments Feb. 26 on the motion for a new trial.
Mix, 52, of Katy in suburban Houston, was convicted of one count of obstruction of justice for deleting a string of text messages to and from a BP supervisor from his iPhone.
Jurors acquitted him of the second count of the same charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mix is scheduled to be sentenced March 26.
In a Jan. 2 court filing, Mix’s lawyers said they learned from post-trial juror interviews that one juror told the others during their deliberations about overhearing a conversation in a courthouse elevator that made that juror feel more comfortable about convicting Mix.
Mix’s attorneys also said some jurors, in conversations outside the deliberation room, apparently engaged in “horse trading” that would ensure a split verdict.
Although Duval didn’t specifically tell attorneys that they weren’t permitted to contact jurors after the verdict, the judge noted that he instructed jurors to refrain from discussing their deliberations.
After the April 2010 blowout of BP’s Macondo well, Mix worked on a team of experts who made an unsuccessful attempt to stop the spill using a technique called “top kill.”
On May 26, 2010, the day that top kill began, Mix estimated in a text to his supervisor that more than 630,000 gallons of oil per day were spilling — three times BP’s public estimate of 210,000 gallons daily and a rate far greater than what the top kill could handle.
Jurors concluded Mix broke the law when he deleted that text and many others in October 2010 even though BP had notified him that he was obligated to preserve all of his spill-related records.