“Does KBR have a secret get-out-of-court-free card?”

That’s the question posed in the title of this Mother Jones write up by reporter Kate Sheppard.  It’s a sharp article that focuses mostly on Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D. Or.)  great work asking the hard questions about the relationship between KBR and the U.S.  government.

The short answer to her question is not really. At least not a get-out-of-court-free card. The KBR defendants are in the case regardless of what happens as between the government and KBR. Still, they will try to evade financial responsibility by sticking the government with the bill. Those of us who actually pay taxes are right to think about that as a bail out of a wealthy defense contractor that has or had friends in high places.

The real question I think Ms. Sheppard meant to ask is this: Can KBR stick the government with the bill for claims made by vets who were exposed to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali facility in Iraq? Yes, that’s a lousy headline, which is one more reason why I will keep my day job.

But still, it’s important to clarify that we push forward on the case against KBR regardless of what side-deals were made between KBR and the government. On some level the bailout deal between the government and KBR is a distraction.

The contours of that still-secret deal are important, of course, because we as citizens and taxpayers have a right to know when our government has foolishly agreed to indemnify a private contractor that received billions from the public treasury. That’s especially true where–as here–the original Project RIO (Restore Iraqi Oil) contract under which KBR worked was a multibillion dollar, cost-plus, no-bid contract that was offered, negotiated and signed in secrecy.

All that aside, my job is simply to move the soldiers case forward. In that respect, I am very much like the infantry soldiers that I represent. The soldiers’ legal team will do everything in its power to see that we have our day in court. And yes, as trial lawyers, I can admit that we are looking forward to this trial.  I welcome the opportunity for the story to be told here in Portland. Like a dog fixated on a ball or a bone, I am staring into the future when a jury will hear the evidence and decide the case.

And to that end, I leave tomorrow for Doha, Qatar where I will meet up with Mike Doyle, where we will take depositions of KBR witnesses. Mike will lead on the depositions. He’s got mad skills matched with an encyclopedic knowledge of the facts and relationships.  It’s a hoot working with Mike.  I imagine we’ll learn some things that matter.

David Sugerman

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