Cassell, Utah Appellate Clinic Appeal Lower Court Decision on Environmental Crimes to Fifth Circuit

May 14, 2014 – University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Paul Cassell, with help from students at the University of Utah Appellate Clinic, today filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asking the court to overturn a district court decision awarding no restitution to twenty environmental crime victims.  The case involves a criminal case against CITGO Petroleum Corporation, which was convicted of two felony violations of the Clean Air Act for operating equipment at its Corpus Christi refinery without proper emission control devices.  Cassell is seeking tens of thousands of dollars in restitution for the victims so that they can have annual checkups to check for cancer.  The U.S. government has been seeking restitution for hundreds of other victims who are similarly situated.

Two years ago, Cassell argued before the Fifth Circuit, which overturned the district court decision that people in the community immediately surrounding the CITGO refinery were not victims of this crime. The district court later agreed with Cassell that all of the persons who had breathed potentially dangerous chemicals released from the refinery were victims.  But in a ruling released two weeks ago, the district court refused to award any restitution to the victims, concluding that they had not established the precise amount of restitution that they should receive.

In the brief filed today, Cassell attacked the district court’s decision.  The brief argues that, “The only way to give effect to the victims’ rights is to set aside the sentence and remand for a new public hearing where the restitution can be announced fairly. “

Cassell said the petition raises important issues about environmental justice and about whether crime victims will be unable to obtain restitution simply because they can’t afford to hire attorneys or expects to document their losses.  “I hope that the Fifth Circuit reverses the decision to award these victims no restitution and will send the case back for a favorable decision on compensating them for their medical expenses and other losses.”

Serving as co-counsel on the petition is Paula Pierce, an attorney with Texas Legal Services.

For more information, contact Paul Cassell at 801-585-5202 or Paula Pierce at 512-477-6576