A federal judge in Texas denied a plea by the families of those killed in two Boeing 737 MAX disasters to modify the conditions of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) between the firm and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2021 to include an independent compliance monitor.
Judge Reed O'Connor of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas denied the families' request that Boeing be subjected to a compliance monitor as part of their DPA, among other things.
Judge O'Connor ruled on Thursday that the court lacked the authority to impose new restrictions on the three-year DPA, under which Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in penalties and compensation to victims. Boeing has committed to make improvements to the way it evaluates possible aeroplane safety risks.
“This court has immense sympathy for the victims and loved ones of those who died in the tragic plane crashes resulting from Boeing’s criminal conspiracy,” O’Connor wrote. “Had Congress vested this court with sweeping authority to ensure that justice is done in a case like this one, it would not hesitate.”
The families, represented by Paul Cassell, a professor and former federal judge, said they were "disappointed" and would appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Boeing and the DOJ crafted an illegal and secret plea deal without any chance for the families to confer about it, which is required by the Crime Victims’ Rights Act,” Cassell said in an emailed statement. “We are optimistic our appeal will vindicate the families’ rights in this case and ensure that never again are deals like this one reached secretly and without victim involvement.”
The families, who had previously been granted standing by Judge O'Connor under the Crime Victims' Rights Act, also requested that the judge overturn provisions in the DPA that prevent Boeing from being prosecuted and consider taking other steps to hold Boeing accountable for its actions that resulted in the deaths of their loved ones.
“Despite increasing and perhaps legitimate criticism of these agreements, Congress—not the courts—is the appropriate venue to redress the inadequacies of this statutory enactment,” the judge wrote in his decision. “In our system of justice, a judge’s role is constitutionally confined to interpreting and applying the law, not revising it. For this court to step outside those constitutional bounds in an attempt to remedy wrongs it has no legitimate authority to correct would compound injustice, not see justice through.”
One issue levelled with DPAs is that, while they are filed in federal district courts, those courts lack the jurisdiction to object to their contents. Prior federal appeals court decisions on the subject have included the 2015 case of Dutch aerospace manufacturer Fokker Servs B.V. and the 2017 case of financial institution HSBC.
Boeing did not reply quickly to a request for comment.
By fLEXI tEAM