NEW ORLEANS – Lead attorneys for people suing BP over last year's oil spill can view emails exchanged between a key engineer for the oil giant and his wife, a federal magistrate judge ruled Monday.
Judge Sally Shushan said the marital privilege doctrine does not protect the emails Brian Morel exchanged with his wife, Jade.
Both were BP employees at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and they had exchanged the emails in question over the company's internal computer system. The plaintiffs' lawyers have argued that the content of the emails are "highly relevant" to BP's liability for the disaster.
Morel is the engineer who described BP's blown-out well as a "nightmare well" six days before the rig explosion. In August, Morel asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify before a federal panel investigating the April 20, 2010, disaster.
The emails have not been made public. Shushan's order described them only as 93 documents containing email communications. A court employee said there were no plans to unseal court papers Morel's attorney had previously filed challenging the right of the plaintiffs' attorneys to view the emails.
Morel's attorney, William Taylor, did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. Morel has five days to appeal Shushan's ruling.
Shushan has scheduled Morel to be deposed by plaintiffs' lawyers and other parties on May 10. In her order, she said Morel's attorney has indicated his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege in response to all questions.
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