BP won’t face questions about post-spill probe

Lawyers suing BP (BP/) Plc over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill won’t be able to cross-examine witnesses at this month’s trial about a post-incident investigation, a judge said.

The so-called Baxter investigation, directed by BP’s outside counsel, is protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan said today, repeating a ruling from May. Shushan also barred plaintiffs’ lawyers from asking questions about the investigation during the trial.

“All parties shall refrain from cross-examination at trial regarding the Baxter investigation and its work,” Shushan said in a two-page order. She further barred questions about analyses in an “inadvertently-produced privileged document regarding the Baxter investigation,” she said.

The explosion of the BP well killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. It also spurred hundreds of lawsuits against BP and its partners. The nonjury trial begins Feb. 27 in federal court in New Orleans before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. Shushan’s decisions on evidence must be approved by Barbier before the trial.

Document Production

Plaintiffs lawyers sought production of documents related to the post-spill investigation as part of a request for material about probes into “systemic causes of the incident,” Shushan said in today’s order.

BP said the investigation didn’t probe into causes of the 2010 Macondo well blowout. The investigation “involved a forward-looking, industrywide analysis of various engineering and legal issues,” the company said in court papers.

The investigation’s “purpose was to assist with the provision of legal advice in various areas, including with respect to the defense of this litigation,” according to a Feb. 9 filing by BP.

Steve Herman, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said the court agreed with BP that the so-called Baxter investigation didn’t explore the root or systemic causes of the Macondo disaster, according to a Jan. 26 e-mail to BP lawyer Andrew Langan.

Not Privileged

The plaintiffs’ lawyers said the existence of the investigation wasn’t privileged, according to Shushan. She agreed with BP that the plaintiffs’ lawyers should be barred at the trial from asking about the investigation or about a confidential document the attorneys suing BP received by mistake.

Herman said in his e-mail to Langan last month that the plaintiffs’ lawyers wouldn’t inquire about the investigation “if you agree that we are free to ask whether or why BP did or did not conduct an investigation” into root or systemic causes.

“The contingent nature of your request is inappropriate,” Langan replied.