Kassian Navigation's Probation Terminated Early for Extraordinary Environmental Compliance Measures
On Friday, October 20th, US District Judge Henry Lee Adams conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kassian Navigation's post-plea actions were sufficient to warrant an early termination of probation. Previously, the company had voluntarily accepted criminal responsibility for unknown acts of shipboard staff in presenting a false oil record book to Coast Guard officers during an inspection at Jacksonville. Following the hearing, in a first of its kind in any "magic pipe" prosecution, Judge Adams issued a ruling from the bench and immediately granted Kassian Navigation's request for early termination of probation.
Previously, Kassian and its' US counsel, George M. Chalos of the Chalos & Co, P.C. - International Law Firm, argued in court filings that Kassian was entitled to terminate probation early by way of an express agreement with US authorities. The government disagreed. Kassian further argued that the company's exemplary environmental compliance practices and systems provided an additional independent basis upon which the Court should grant the company's request. Again, the government disagreed. In opposing court filings, the government argued, among other things, that the company had sought to minimize costs and otherwise did not deserve such a reward from the court. Unable to persuade the government that it needed to honor a prior contractual obligation and/or otherwise view the facts and circumstances favorably, Kassian requested Judge Adams to hold an emergency hearing. The Judge obliged and representatives of the Department of Justice, the US Coast Guard, the US Department of Probation and Kassian's Corporate Compliance Manager, Capt. John Liokouras, attended in the Jacksonville Courtroom.
After reviewing the parties filings, as well as sworn affidavit testimony provided by two (2) independent experts, Judge Adams called LCDR Channing Burgess, (of the US Coast Guard's Foreign Vessel Compliance Office), to take the stand. On direct examination, the Coast Guard officer's testimony largely paralleled earlier argument presented by the prosecutors and sought to discredit both the substance and effectiveness of the company's post-plea practices. However, on cross examination, LCDR Burgess conceded that the company was, in fact, in compliance; and otherwise, ostensibly, was a good company that was doing a good job. No specific instances of non-compliance could be identified and numerous extraordinary practices were reluctantly acknowledged by the officer in response to pointed questioning by Chalos. Thereafter, Capt. Liokouras took the stand on behalf of the company at the request of Kassian's counsel. On direct examination, Chalos asked the fifty (50) year Kassian veteran to explain the comprehensive environmental compliance systems Liokouras and the company have worked hard to develop and implement throughout the Kassian managed fleet. Liokouras obliged. He further detailed the change in culture he has witnessed both at sea and shore-side and concluded his testimony by describing the company's deep commitment to being green. Kassian is one of an elite breed of shipping companies seeking to obtain ISO 14001 certification.
In an unexpected turn of events, when asked by Judge Adams for its position, the US Department of Probation Officers in attendance disagreed with the prosecutors and Coast Guard and advised the Court that the Probation Department had no reason to object to Kassian's bid for early termination of probation. Previously, Chalos had argued that all of the relevant DOJ and Coast Guard personnel who were initially involved in the case had left their positions and no one was minding the store for the government or otherwise following Kassian's progress. After hearing from the US Probation Department, LCDR Burgess and Capt Liokouras, the Judge advised both the prosecutors and defense counsel that no further argument would be required. The Judge proceeded to issue his ruling, "Kassian's motion is hereby GRANTED".
Asked for comment on the case and the Judge's ruling, Chalos stated: "The Judge heard the evidence, considered the facts & circumstances and agreed that Kassian had, indeed, earned the right to terminate probation early. Kassian is an extraordinary company and truly deserves to be the first to earn such an honor from the US courts for its exemplary behavior. That said, I am sorry that the company was forced to (successfully) litigate this issue with the U.S. government. For reasons, which I cannot understand, DOJ and the Coast Guard were unable to objectively evaluate the situation and consent to Kassian's application. Really, they were the only ones who didn't see clearly here. The independent environmental compliance consultant (who was previously approved by both DOJ and Coast Guard); the Court Appointed Monitor (who also was approved by DOJ and the Coast Guard), the Probation Department, the company, and the Judge all agreed that Kassian had earned an early termination of probation. I almost fell out of my seat when the prosecutors tried to argue that the Judge should not accept the testimony provided by the Court Appointed Monitor."
When asked about the impact of this decision on other "magic pipe" cases, Chalos commented: "Each case will necessarily have its own unique set of facts and circumstances. I am sure many other companies are also doing a good job, which I hope the government can see clearly to recognize. I also hope that the bosses at DOJ and Admiral Allen take notice of this decision and don't try to minimize its meaning. It's time for DOJ and the US Coast Guard to lose the 'us against them" mentality and start working more cooperatively with industry. There is an awful lot of technical expertise in the Coast Guard, which should be used constructively to improve shipping."
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