Bloomberg has released a whopping 21-page investigative and historical essay on the many crimes of the infamous Koch Brothers, their company Koch Industries and its array of subsidiaries. The feature piece in Bloomberg Markets Magazine’s November edition, the article is titled, “Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales,” although the title is a bit of a misnomer – while part of the story, the Iran angle is but a small piece of it.
Indeed, the article leaves any person with faith in the American legal system wondering, “How could these guys not possibly be locked up in prison?” A few stunning article highlights (or lowlights) show that it’s not for lack of contemptible behavior, that’s for certain:
At a Koch Refining Co. petroleum refining plant in Corpus Christi, TX, this subsidiary of Koch Industries was emitting 91 metric tons of uncontrolled benzene into the air, a known carcinogen. Sally Barnes-Soliz, former refinery manager and current investigator for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, was the person assigned to tally the benzene emissions. After she discovered these figures in 1996, Koch Refining Co. falsified figures in documents, reporting to Texas regulators that they had only emitted .61 metric tons of benzene into the air, or 1/149th the quantity Barnes-Soliz had found. Peeved at the falsification, Barnes-Soliz reported this to Texas state regulators, after which Koch Refining Co. proceeded to fire her. “Koch stripped her of her responsibilities and moved her to an empty office with no tasks and no e-mail access, she says. She left the company in July 1996. Barnes-Soliz sued Koch in January 1997, saying the company harassed and mistreated her after she became a whistle-blower. Koch settled the lawsuit in July 1999 for an undisclosed amount,” according to Bloomberg.
A Minnesota Koch Unit pleaded guilty in 1999 to two federal misdemeanors for violations of the Clean Water Act. It paid its way out of this crime through $8 million in fines and penalties, chump change for the Kochs. The deed? “The company used fire hydrants to pump more than a million gallons of wastewater contaminated with ammonia onto the ground…Koch also admitted that it negligently released between 200,000 gallons (757 kiloliters) and 600,000 gallons of aviation fuel into a nearby wetland,” Bloomberg reported.
Knowing full well that one of its pipelines in Texas was corroded, but deciding it was too much of an expense to fix it, Koch Industries did nothing. In 1996, butane vapor that leaked from the pipeline ignited a truck on fire, killing two 17-year old high school students.
Head over to Bloomberg to read the full article.
The Genius of Legal Scholar Marc Galanter’s 1974 “Why the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead” Essay
In a now famous 1974 article from the Law and Society Review, law professor Marc Galanter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Law School, relayed a lesson still relevant nearly 40 years later, titled, “Why the ‘Haves’ Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change.”
The article is highly applicable not only to the Koch Brothers, but to all corporate criminals of their ilk.
Galanter’s thesis, which he presented in his meticulously researched 60-page essay, is now common knowledge – in the American legal system, the “haves,” or the “Repeat Players,” as he puts it, nearly always come out ahead. The converse, the “one-shotters,” as he calls them, nearly always lose.
This is highly evident when reading through the Bloomberg article – the Koch Brothers’ attorneys are “Repeat Players” par excellence – they never “lose,” but nearly always end lawsuits in monetary settlements.
In the Bloomberg article alone, the term “settle” appears 11 times, all in relationship to the Koch Brothers deciding to settle cases against them for hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions of dollars, rather than face the threat of jail time. Settling with large sums of cash is but a drop in the bucket for the Koch Brothers, who are worth $50 billion, according to the most recent Forbes 400.
Why do the “Repeat Players” never really lose? Because they have attorneys who are constantly working the legal system, fighting big-money lawsuits, and developing the techniques necessary to “come out ahead,” including the ability to gain rapport with judges and juries.
They can also afford to pay the best and brightest attorneys to present their case in the legal system. If it ever appears that a loss is imminent, wealthy “Repeat Players” resort to large monetary settlements that exonerate them from actual criminal or civil indictment. The thought of jail or prison time for criminal behavior never enters their minds.
Put another way, while the Erin Brockovich fairy tale is uplifting, it is far from the dim reality of the American legal system, which rewards, nearly without fail, “Repeat Players,” or the “haves.”
If the article makes anything clear, it’s that in the U.S., as Salon.com civil liberties and legal writer Glenn Greenwald puts it in his upcoming book, we have a two-tiered legal system, in which there is “Liberty and Justice for Some.”
Well here is Exhibit A: the Kochs have yet to spend a night in prison despite the horrifying track record of Koch Industries over nearly 45 years in their control.
Galanter had it right when he wrote, “The more that lawyers view themselves exclusively as courtroom advocates, the less their willingness to undertake new tasks and form enduring alliances with clients and operate in forums other than courts, the less likely they are to serve as agents of redistributive change.”
The legal system is simply not a deterrent for the Koch Brothers and their corporate allies, who over time, have only grown richer and richer.