Jury sides with Kevin Costner in BP spill lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS — Kevin Costner said his reputation was at stake as he defended himself against accusations that he cheated fellow actor Stephen Baldwin out of millions of dollars in a lucrative BP contract for oil-cleaning machines after the 2010 spill.

Baldwin and a friend were seeking $17 million in damages, saying they could have made at least that much in the deal. A federal grand jury in New Orleans sided with Costner and gave them nothing.

Costner smiled and shook his attorney’s hand as a grim-faced Baldwin left the courtroom.

“My name means more to me than money and that’s why we didn’t settle,” Costner said.

After a two-week trial, eight jurors deliberated for less than two hours before giving their decision in the lawsuit brought by Baldwin and his friend, Spyridon Contogouris.

Baldwin referred questions about the verdict to his attorney, James Cobb.

“We’re disappointed. We thought we proved rather convincingly that these two guys, Mr. Costner and Mr. Smith, defrauded us,” Cobb said. “The jury saw it a different way but we respect the jury’s verdict.”

Contogouris and Baldwin sold their shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions for $1.4 million and $500,000, respectively. The company was marketing the oil-separating centrifuges.

Baldwin testified he would have held out for much more if he had known BP had committed to ordering 32 of them. Soon after they sold their shares, the oil giant made an $18 million deposit on a $52 million order.

Attorneys for Costner and Smith said Baldwin and Contogouris knew BP was preparing to order the machines when they walked away from the company rather than gamble for a more lucrative payout if BP signed a binding contract. At the time they sold their shares, BP only had signed a non-binding letter of intent, the defendants’ attorneys said.

Cobb questioned whether celebrity was a factor in the outcome “because I believe we proved our case and because the bigger celebrity won.”

Earlier Thursday, during the trial’s closing arguments, Cobb told jurors they probably see the case as a “bunch of rich people fighting over money I’ll never, ever see.” Cobb, however, said his clients deserved to be compensated for being lied to by Costner and business partner Patrick Smith and defrauded out of their fair share of the BP money.

“I had no idea the spider’s web of deception could be so pervasive and so hard to unravel,” Cobb said.

Costner’s attorney Wayne Lee argued his client’s fame is the only reason he was sued. The plaintiffs were mistaken when they thought Costner would “roll over and give in” under the threat of a lawsuit, Lee said.

“This lawsuit never should have been brought,” Lee said. “Mr. Costner never should have been a party to these proceedings.”

Costner and Baldwin were ordered by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to attend each day of the trial, which they heeded. The judge thanked them at the end of the trial.

“I know that being here throughout the trial has been a great challenge for them,” Feldman said.

Costner testified that he never saw Baldwin contribute anything to their company’s efforts to persuade BP to use the centrifuges. Baldwin testified that no one asked him to invest any capital or lobby BP but said he used his celebrity to market and promote the centrifuges while he also worked on a documentary about the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

Costner had lost $20 million in an earlier effort to market the devices to the oil and gas industry, but Cobb said Costner and Smith each made $15 million off their investments in Ocean Therapy Solutions after the BP spill.

BP deployed a few of the centrifuges on a barge in June 2010. The company capped the well the following month, and it was permanently sealed in September 2010.

Costner praised the jury for “doing their best to understand everything” in a complex case.

“They were really smart, and it was my good luck that they saw the truth of the story,” he said.

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