In a broad repudiation of the Justice Department's approach to prosecuting Boeing for crashes of its 737 Max planes, a federal district judge ruled that a deferred prosecution deal with the company violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act because victims' families were excluded from negotiations, the Washington Post reports. Family members and their lawyers have asked the judge to throw out the plea deal, in which Boeing admitted to conspiring to defraud federal regulators but would be immunized from prosecution for that conspiracy if it meets the terms of the deal. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth, Tx., did not prescribe a remedy for the violation of victims' rights. Both sides must propose remedies by Oct. 28.
The ruling found that the 346 people killed in crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019 are crime victims under federal law and that those deaths were "a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Boeing's conspiracy to defraud the United States." Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former federal judge who is representing the victims’ families, said, "The government and Boeing both had multiple lawyers working on this secret deal, and now the judge has made clear that secrecy was a gross violation of federal law.” O'Connor found that Boeing lied to the Federal Aviation Administration about when an automated flight control system would activate, which resulted in lower pilot training standards on the new planes or warnings to pilots that the system could activate at low speeds. Under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, victims — or, in this case, their survivors — must be provided a “reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case.” They also have the right to be informed “in a timely manner” of a deferred prosecution agreement or plea bargain.