Felony Charges Dismissed in Waste Management Hawaii Case

john-marshall

On the eve of trial and after four years of investigation and litigation, the U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to dismiss all felony charges against Waste Management of Hawaii, Inc. (WMH), a subsidiary of America's largest environmental services provider, and two of its managers, in what had once been hailed by the government as a major Clean Water Act prosecution.

In a settlement agreement announced by Hueston Hennigan LLP, which represented WMH, the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Hawaii U.S. attorney's office, agreed to dismiss a 14-count felony indictment charging conspiracy, false statements and intentional discharges of pollutants in violation of the Clean Water Act. In exchange, the company has accepted two misdemeanor negligence counts. Separately, the government agreed to dismiss all felony charges against two of the company's managers in exchange for their acceptance of misdemeanors, and to make a binding recommendation to the court that no jail or other confinement be imposed.

The individual defendants each faced more than 15 years in prison, and the company faced $20 million in fines. The about-face on the part of the government, which vigorously pursued felony charges, came after four years of aggressive litigation on the part of Hueston Hennigan attorneys, who first defeated efforts to indict Waste Management's parent company, and ultimately filed a compelling prosecutorial misconduct motion that had been taken under submission by the Court after oral argument.

John Hueston, lead counsel for Waste Management, said the settlement represents a resounding victory for Waste Management and its employees. "This was a misguided attempt by the government to find criminal intent in an environmental accident that was clearly the result of an act of nature."

In 2011, Oahu was battered by a historic series of rainstorms and, in one instance, received 11 inches of rain in a 24-hour period in an area with typical annual rainfall of 19 inches. The resulting flooding, Mr. Hueston said, "was unfortunate, but it certainly was not the fault of Waste Management."

Added co-counsel Marshall Camp: "This was a classic case of prosecutorial overreach." Camp, a former federal prosecutor, said that prosecutors "were blinded by their desire to pin blame. This led to an extremely weak case that we effectively challenged at every turn."

First came a series of preliminary victories by the legal team, which in addition to Mr. Hueston and Mr. Camp, included Doug Dixon, Andrew Walsh, Kasey Mitchell, Andrew Junker and Kyle Batter. Together they worked to successfully bar 13 of the 14 substantive experts prosecutors had designated for trial. Then Hueston Hennigan filed a motion to dismiss the case for prosecutorial misconduct. Drawing on thousands of pages of grand jury transcripts that depicted an extensive pattern of prosecutorial misconduct before three grand juries, including efforts to intimidate witnesses, manipulate testimony and influence the grand jury. The motion was still pending when the government agreed to dismiss all felony charges.

This marks the third case in three years in which Hueston Hennigan attorneys have obtained dismissal of all felony charges following the filing of a prosecutorial misconduct motion.

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