LONDON – On Friday this week, a Texas federal judge stated that the US department of Justice should have consulted the families of crash victims before settling on a deferred prosecution agreement with $2.5 billion.
The families of victims have fundamentally argued that the government had violated their rights by proceeding with the negotiations as a secret process behind closed doors, asking the Judge to rescind Boeing’s immunity from criminal prosecution.
In yesterday’s hearing, US District Judge Reed O’Connor stated that over a dozen relatives of victims of both 737 MAX fatal crashes – Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 – have grounds to advance their claims.
He said that the ” closed door” deal that DOJ prosecutors negotiated with Boeing was in violation of the families’ rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
Essentially, Judge O’Connor has held that the families are representatives of “crime victims” under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), and he found that the deferred prosecution agreement was effectively negotiated in violation of the victim’s rights.
The Friday October 21 ruling follows on from the earlier July order in which Judge O’Connor stated the families could continue their challenge if it was established that they were “directly and proximately harmed” by Boeing’s federal offense.
Judge O’Connor said: “The court finds that the tragic loss of life that resulted from the two airplane crashes was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Boeing’s conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
“Having demonstrated direct and proximate cause, the movants have shown they are proper representatives of ‘crime victims’ for purposes of the CVRA and are therefore entitled to assert rights under the Act.”
Legal counsel representing the bereaved families, Paul G Cassell has characterised the Judge’s ruling as “a tremendous victory”, saying: “The Department of Justice clearly violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by secretly negotiating an agreement that granted Boeing immunity from criminal prosecution.”
“Justice for the victims who lost their lives and their families due to Boeing’s greed has been delayed long enough. This decision sets the stage for a pivotal hearing, where we will present proposed remedies that will allow criminal prosecution to hold Boeing fully accountable.”
Judge O’Connor stopped short of definitively ruling on the court’s supervisory power and potential remedies, giving the parties until October 28 to file any supplemental briefs on what’s next.
Naoise Connolly Ryan, whose husband Mick died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Boeing 737 MAX crash, spoke on Friday via a statement which was relayed through attorneys, saying:
“Families like mine are the true victims of Boeing’s criminal misconduct, and our views should have been considered before the government gave them a sweetheart deal. We look forward to advancing our fight for justice and pursuing our rights in court.”
The case is U.S.A. v. The Boeing Co., case number 4:21-cr-00005, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.