One of the largest jury tampering sanctions issued in state court history
PLAQUEMINE - One of the largest jury tampering sanctions issued in a civil trial happened last week in Iberville Parish. The case involves the 2013 deadly plant explosion on the Ascension-Iberville Parish line and the plaintiff was ordered to pay more than $700,000.
On June 13, 2013, the Williams Olefins plant exploded outside of Geismar, killing two workers and injuring more than 150 others. SABIC, a co-owner of the plant, sued Williams for damages and went to trial last October.
During that trial, court documents show SABIC's President James Wilkerson mingled with four jurors. A mistrial was declared and sanctions were imposed last week.
The order issued by the court Friday indicated SABIC must pay Williams $713,447.61.
"If jury tampering occurred, that's a crime," LSU Law professor Ken Levy said. "As far as my understanding, the sanctions were not for that crime. No one has been criminally prosecuted for jury tampering."
Levy said this case is quite interesting because both sides have large teams of attorneys working for them, including lawyers employed at the same district attorney's office. Scott Stassi, a prosecutor for the 18th JDC is representing Williams. Tony Clayton, a prosecutor for the same DA's office is representing SABIC. Whether they have to decide prosecuting a party involved in their own litigation would be highly unusual according to Levy.
"The DA's office itself should recuse and farm it out to another agency," Levy said.
With a clear-cut case of jury tampering according to court documents, discretion on what to do ultimately falls into the hands of those involved with this case.
"That's the prosecutor's decision," Levy said. "Jury tampering is a crime. If there is sufficient evidence or probable cause, it's within their discretion as to whether they want to go forward with this prosecution."
When the new trial begins, Wilkerson will be prevented from testifying according to the sanctions ruling. SABIC's attorneys out of Washington D.C. said they strongly disagree with the order and will appeal it.
Attorneys representing Williams say they were instructed not to comment by their client.