Louisiana Jury Rules in Favor of Kevin Costner

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A jury on Thursday evening ruled in favor of Kevin Costner in a $21 million lawsuit that claimed he and others tricked Stephen Baldwin and a partner into selling their interests in a company just before it sold oil-separating centrifuges to BP for $52 million.
     The eight-member jury deliberated for less than 2 hours before delivering the verdict, after a nine-day trial.
     “My name means more to me than money,” Costner said after hearing the verdict, smiling with relief and wearing sunglasses. Otherwise, he said, he would have settled the lawsuit.
     He thanks the jury – which appeared engrossed during closing arguments.
     “It was my good luck that they saw the truth of the story,” Costner said.
     Baldwin and Spyridon Contogouris sued Costner and his business partner Patrick Smith in December 2010, claiming Costner and Smith had tricked them into selling their shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions just before the company entered into a $52 million contract with BP for the lease of 32 oil-separating centrifuges.
     Contogouris got $1.4 million for his shares, and Baldwin $500,000 for his. Baldwin testified that he would have held out for more had he known the company was on the verge of a multimillion-dollar deal with BP.
     Their attorney asked the jury for at least $17 million in damages.
     The jury awarded them nothing.
     After the verdict was delivered, Baldwin’s attorney, James Cobb, said, “The bigger celebrity won.”
     Baldwin, the younger brother of the actor Alec Baldwin, made no comment as he left the courtroom.
     A witness testified on Wednesday that in December 2010 Baldwin threatened to feed personal information about Costner to The New York Times if the dispute that turned into this lawsuit could not be resolved.
     Whether Baldwin did try to give such information to the newspaper is unknown.
     Several times during the trial, Cobb said Costner and Smith tried to conceal that they were attempting to contract with BP.
     Cobb called Costner and Smith “deceivers and the greedy,” who came to Louisiana and “squeezed out the Louisiana guys by fraudulently deceiving them.”
     By “Louisiana guys” Cobb meant Baldwin and Contogouris, though Baldwin is from New York and Contogouris is a wealthy businessman who attends Cannes film festival in the south of France. According to testimony from Costner, Contogouris once showed up in Greece during Costner’s family vacation.
     Cobb told the jury Thursday that someone “would have to be an idiot” to believe Costner’s side of the story.
     Thomas Flanagan, attorney for Costner and Smith’s business WestPac Resources, which also was a defendant, said during closing arguments that Baldwin and Contogouris’ side of the story was “so complicated” because they had no basis for their lawsuit.
     “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” Flanagan said.
     “This should be a simple case,” Flanagan had said at the trial’s start, “When did BP sign a contract with OTS? And when did the plaintiffs know about it?”
     Attorneys for Costner and Smith insisted Baldwin and Contogouris would have known there was possibility for a contract with BP since BP was the only market for the oil-separating centrifuge in the Gulf Coast at the time, and because Contogouris himself worked on the plan for selling the product to BP, including the plan to ask for the $18 million advance that was central to the dispute.
     Defendants’ attorneys said that at the time Baldwin and Contogouris sold their shares, BP and Ocean Therapy Solutions had only a nonbinding letter of intent, and that several factors could have voided that nonbinding contract.
     During closing statements Thursday, Costner’s attorney Wayne Lee said Costner’s celebrity was the reason the lawsuit was brought against him in the first place.
     “Costner is here, in part, just because he’s famous,” Lee said. “This lawsuit never should have been brought. Mr. Costner never should not have been a party.”
     He said “the plaintiffs made their own decisions” to leave the company, and said Contogouris was in direct contact with Dave Roberts, an exploration adviser to BP, and so Contogouris had “inside information” about the possibility of Ocean Therapy Solutions and BP striking a deal in the days before Baldwin and Contogouris sold their shares.
     An email exchange between Roberts and Contogouris discussed tests BP ran on the centrifuge to check whether it could separate oil and water as well as Ocean Therapy Solutions claimed.
     BP spent $2 million testing the centrifuge before entering into a deal with OTS, according to testimony from another BP official.
     After the initial tests were unsuccessful, Roberts emailed Contogouris to tell him there was little hope BP would find a use for the machine. He said Contogouris should complete the sale of his shares before BP broke the news to Patrick Smith and Ocean Therapy Solutions.
     Lee summarized the email from Roberts as saying, basically BP “can’t make this thing work, but I’m not going to tell Mr. Smith that until you get your deal done.”
     But while Roberts may have pressured Baldwin and Contogouris to hurry and sell their shares in the company, at least one person allegedly “begged” them to stay. John Houghtaling, CEO of Ocean Therapy Solutions, and Baldwin’s and Contogouris’ attorney at the time, testified Wednesday that he begged Baldwin and Contogouris not to sell their shares, promising them a deal with BP was imminent.
     “They didn’t want to take a risk,” Costner’s attorney, Lee, said.
     He said Contogouris was the one who brought up the idea of selling: “He set the price.”
     A separate lawsuit filed by Baldwin and Contogouris – this one against Houghtaling and Ocean Therapy Solutions – is awaiting trial in Orleans Parish Court. Trial was delayed by these federal court proceedings and is expected to start at any time.

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