Judge rejects mistrial motion in case of ex-BP engineer charged with obstruction of justice

NEW ORLEANS – A federal judge has refused to declare a mistrial in the case of former BP drilling engineer charged with obstruction of justice following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a filing Tuesday, defence lawyers for Kurt Mix said prosecution questioning of witness Wilson Arabie on Monday improperly raised issues of whether Mix ordered copies made of spill-related documents in order to eliminate possibly incriminating hand-written notes made in some of the margins.

The defence said prosecutors were barred by an earlier court order from raising that issue.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. ruled Tuesday that he would instruct jurors to disregard the testimony. However he declined to declare a mistrial.

Mix is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text messages and voicemails about the company’s response to its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He has pleaded not guilty.

Mix attorney Joan McPhee, in an afternoon hearing, argued that federal prosecutor Jennifer Saulino went too far in mentioning the possibility of the hand-written notes and the copying of the documents.

McPhee also said Saulino stepped over the line from prosecutor to witness when she reminded Arabie of conversations she had had with him about the documents. McPhee said Saulino should be disqualified from the case and should be subject to being called as a witness.

Saulino said she was merely getting Arabie to clarify his testimony. She also said the testimony about the documents was relevant because a deleted voice mail dealt with the documents.

Duval said Saulino “may have been on the precipice” but did nothing to warrant removal.

He said the testimony about copying documents was not relevant to the case and jurors would be told to disregard it.