Tuesday PM September 4th, 2007

Jury selection continues in Galveston for BP Texas City refinery blast civil trial...Jury selection underway in Oscar Wyatt Oil-for-Food trial in New York...LA Times alleges KBR ordered truck drivers through combat zone despite security warnings...

A jury of four men and eight women has been seated to hear the first trial of cases stemming from the March 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery. The six- to eight-week trial begins with opening statements on Wednesday. BP attorneys told potential jurors in a Galveston state district court today that it's never denied responsibility for a deadly 2005 Texas City refinery blast, which left 15 people dead and more than 170 others hurt. More than 1,400 of the thousands of lawsuits filed since the March 2005 blast have been settled. BP attorneys say the company's fighting the five suits left to go to trial because the plaintiffs want more money than what the law allows. The five lawsuits, barring last-minute settlements, are to be the first to be tried in connection with the blast. The plaintiffs want punitive damages for gross negligence. BP denies the accident resulted from gross negligence. The blast has cost the company at least $2 billion in compensation payouts, repairs and lost profit. The trial, if it proceeds, could last up to two months.

Jury selection is underway in New York in the trial of wealthy Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt, Jr. He's accused of conspiring to pay millions of dollars in kickbacks to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime to win contracts under the United Nations' Oil-for-Food program. U.S. District Judge Denny Chin has ruled that prosecutors can show prospective jurors evidence that Wyatt encouraged opposition to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. They also may see evidence that Wyatt bragged about his influence to Iraqi officials to win oil contracts even after most American citizens were cut off from the deals. Defense attorneys say they want prospective jurors to hear that the case will contain evidence that Wyatt had business dealing with the Iraqi government as far back as the 1970s.

The Los Angeles Times reports defense contractor KBR ordered its truck drivers to speed through an Iraq combat zone in 2004 to deliver jet fuel. That's even though the Houston-based company's own security advisers said convoys should be suspended because of the danger. At least six civilians and two soldiers died in a subsequent attack. The families and some survivors of the doomed convoy are suing the Houston-based company and are requesting a federal investigation of KBR's role in the incident. A KBR spokeswoman declined to comment on the allegations but says its "top priority remains the safety and security of all employees'' and that the company remains "saddened by the events.''

It may turn out to be a good thing for anyone who has seen a family cell phone budget blown to bits by youngsters racking up loads of text message and ringtone fees. San Antonio-based AT&T now says it will launch a service that gives parents control over what kinds of charges their kids will be able to run up. For example, the new controls can have parents put limits on when a wireless phone can make and receive calls, as well as who those calls can come from or go to. It can even set allowances on talk time and how much can be spent on ringtones or other downloads. An official with AT&T's wireless unit says the changes are being made after getting an earful from parents who are tired of shelling out money for extra services, while still wanting to give their children the ability to stay in touch in case of emergency.

Discount wireless phone service provider MetroPCS Communications is offering to buy rival Leap Wireless International. The stock deal would be worth about $5.12 billion. Dallas-based Metropcs, which offers prepaid phone plans, says it would also assume or refinance $2 billion of Leap debt as part of the transaction. MetroPCS Chairman Roger Linquist says the combined company "will create a new national wireless carrier with licenses covering nearly all of the top 200 markets in the United States.'' Under terms of the deal, MetroPCS would own about 65 percent of the combined company. The MetroPCS proposal is subject to due diligence and approval by the companies' respective boards and shareholders, as well as regulators.

After a three-day weekend, investors have a steady stream of economic data to consider this week. Wednesday, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book Survey of Regional Economic Conditions is due, prepared for the September 18th meeting on interest rates. Then on Friday, the Labor Department releases the monthly employment report.

Tags: News


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