A lawsuit in federal court in South Carolina — of which Georgia group One Hundred Miles is a plaintiff — continues to see action despite an order in late December that put the matter on hold until the end of the partial federal government shutdown.
Several environmental advocacy groups, including OHM, brought the suit against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the National Marine Fisheries Service to block Trump administration efforts to open up the Atlantic coast to seismic air gun testing ahead of possible offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
Monday, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a motion to intervene to bring in the Palmetto State as an intervenor plaintiff in the matter. According to the documents filed by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, “Seismic air gun surveys would irreparably harm marine life, in large numbers and with a large impact, and the communities and businesses that use and enjoy this marine life and rely on it for their economic livelihoods.
“The seismic surveying authorized by the defendant NMFS is in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.”
Bringing the lawsuit originally, on Dec. 11, were OHM, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, North Carolina Coastal Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.
On Dec. 20, several states filed to become intervenor plaintiffs, including Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Virginia. The next day, several companies and industry groups filed a motion to join the suit as intervenor defendants. They include the American Petroleum Institute, CGG Services, GX Technology Corporation, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, Spectrum Geo, TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company and WesternGeco.
Spectrum Geo, GX Technology Corporation, CGG, TGS-NOPEC and WesternGeco each received authorizations from the federal government in early December to conduct seismic testing. Those authorizations do not become active, however, until the companies advise the government that they would like them to become active. The companies have one year to take advantage of them.
Dec. 21, when the proposed industry intervenors filed, was also the first day of the government shutdown. Attorneys for the NMFS filed a motion to stay the matter until the restoration of funding to the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies.
On Dec. 28, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ordered the case stayed, adding that once funding is restored, the federal agencies have 13 days to respond to the states’ motion to intervene. Gergel also merged into this case a similar one filed by a number of South Carolina municipalities against Ross and the NMFS.
Gergel has yet to set a deadline to respond to the motions by the proposed industry intervenors or the state of South Carolina, but those deadlines are likely coming after the end of the government shutdown.
Other federal court matters
In cases brought Monday before the U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Paula Padgett received a sentence of three years’ probation after pleading guilty July 12 to one count of making a false statement to a federal health care program.
According to the criminal information document filed against her, and statements made in court, Padgett filed hundreds of medical travel refund requests to the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor from 2013 to 2017, equalling around $21,000.
The actions came to light as part of a massive health care fraud investigation that dealt with 58 federal districts and resulted in 601 charged defendants.
Friends, coworkers and family testifying on Padgett’s behalf talked at length about her trustworthiness, dependability and ethics — that she could be relied on to do the right thing. They also described the number of tragic events in her personal life that she weathered and handled.
The federal prosecutor said that as far as it concerned the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Padgett’s “aberrant conduct” was not consistent with the way she otherwise lived her life, and agreed with the probation officer’s report that she didn’t merit prison time.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood explained to Padgett that she was “in very rare company” as one of the few criminal defendants to walk out of that courtroom without having to spend time in prison.
A defendant in another case also didn’t have to go in for prison time, but that was because she already served her sentence awaiting disposition of the case. Amy Manson pleaded guilty Sept. 12 to illegal use of a phone in the Glynn County drug shed matter — Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Josephson said she was recorded making calls to codefendant Kenneth Leon Bradley, and was present with codefendant Troy Crosby for several cocaine deals.
But because her state charges were dropped, Manson spent more than a year in confinement that counted to her federal time. Considering that amount of time served was both within the suggested sentence length and similar to the sentence given to a codefendant facing similar allegations, Manson received a sentence of time served, plus one year supervised release.