Equilon wants judge to keep rivals from peeking at Hartford settlement

Steve Korris May 30, 2008, 5:00am


Shell Oil subsidiary Equilon wants Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack to keep Sinclair Oil from peeking into the settlement Equilon and Clark Oil successor Premcor Refining reached with class action attorneys over pollution in the village of Hartford.

"Such discovery is unwarranted and inappropriate," Richard Greenberg of St. Louis wrote for Equilon in a May 22 motion for a protective order.

Stack has granted preliminary approval to the settlement, which calls for Equilon and Premcor to spend $16 million in Hartford.

As part of the deal Premcor has promised to supply plaintiff attorneys with scientific data to buttress claims primarily against BP Amoco and also against Sinclair.

BP Amoco and Sinclair formerly negotiated in a group with Equilon and Premcor, trying to settle claims through mediation.

When mediation failed, Equilon and Premcor settled without BP Amoco and Sinclair.

Stack plans a fairness hearing for Equilon and Premcor but Sinclair attorneys contend they can't defend their interests that unless they understand the settlement.

Sinclair attorney Joseph Nassif of Clayton, Mo., served questions on plaintiffs in April, but plaintiffs didn't answer.

Instead, Equilon moved to limit Sinclair's discovery.

"It is designed to conduct the mini-trial that settlement is to avoid," Greenberg wrote.

"It is designed to probe the conduct of counsel over a two year period in which, for most of the time, Sinclair was an interested participant," he wrote.

"Sinclair seeks to require counsel to disclose and recount countless oral communications made over several years," he wrote.

Sinclair has asked why $16 million was a correct amount for settlement, he wrote, and it has asked for information on why it might be liable in the case.

"Sinclair also wants to know if there is any evidence to warrant punitive damages against Sinclair which, of course, has nothing to do with this settlement or good faith finding," he wrote.

Greenberg told Stack he doesn't have to hold an evidentiary hearing on good faith.

"The trial court has discretion to determine what type of hearing is necessary to decide the issue of good faith," he wrote.

"In fact," he wrote, "the trial court can decide the issue of good faith solely on the basis of the arguments of trial counsel."

Attorneys representing everyone in the village claim refinery operations created an underground lake of petroleum that releases nasty vapors with each rainfall.

They mostly allege property damage and loss of property value, though the settlement would provide $1 million for a medical fund.

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