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California Ordered to Pay $1 Million in 'Targate' Case

Image: California Ordered to Pay $1 Million in 'Targate' Case
A Greka Oil & Gas Inc. sign is posted on land the company leases from the Firestone Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

By    |   Monday, 24 Apr 2017 08:34 PM

The State of California must pay nearly $1 million for destroying evidence relevant to the controversial "Targate" environmental case it is pursing against HVI Cat Canyon, a federal judge has ruled.

In a 16-page decision, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge William McCurine Jr. rejected California's request to slash the $957,000 in attorneys' fees stemming from the destruction of evidence.

The ruling marked the third time a judge has determined California officials should reimburse HVI Cat Canyon for fees associated with its effort to obtain information that had been destroyed. Now, the Golden States faces a May 10 deadline to make payment.

According to McCurine's ruling, California officials had assured HVI Cat Canyon's attorneys a "litigation hold" was in place to preserve documents believed to be relevant to the case. That assurance turned out to be a misrepresentation, however, and relevant evidence was destroyed -- an act known in legal parlance as “spoiliation."

The state had contested about $192,000 in legal fees stemmed from inefficiency or duplication on the part of HVI Cat Canyon's attorneys.

But after reviewing the firm's detailed billings, Judge McCurine concluded Thursday: "To the extent there was any duplication of effort, the State made much of it necessary by its dissimulation."

California and the federal government are trying to punish HVI to the tune of millions of dollars due to oil spills that date as far back as 2005. Formerly known as Greka Oil & Gas Inc., the firm was accused of spilling oil at its tar-producing leases near Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara News-Press branded the case "Targate."

The lawsuit was first filed in 2011. According to the Santa Maria Sun, HVI Cat Canyon filed a motion last month asking the case, which alleges violation of environmental laws, be halted. It cited the Trump administration's executive-branch review of former President Barack Obama's 2015 order granting the EPA jurisdiction over small bodies of water. A reversal of that directive could lead to the case being dismissed anyway, attorneys say. 

Following McCurine's finding, HVI lead attorney Robert O'Brien of the Larson O'Brien law firm in Los Angeles told the News-Press: "We are very pleased that after two years of struggling to prove that the state of California destroyed documents and hard drives, a third federal judge has ordered the state to pay."

Unless a court intervenes, the full case is expected to go to trial later this year.

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The State of California must pay nearly $1 million for destroying evidence relevant to the controversial "Targate" environmental case it is pursing against HVI Cat Canyon, a federal judge has ruled.
California, evidence, lawsuit, judge
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2017-34-24
Monday, 24 Apr 2017 08:34 PM
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