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Is DOJ Victim-Settlement Policy Too Late To Save Boeing Deal?

Justice Department officials promised to pay more attention to victims when negotiating criminal settlements. The new policy might have come too late to limit the damage caused by the government's resolution of a case against Boeing Co. DOJ said it would expand support for people who were harmed by a crime but who didn’t meet the legal definition of victims. On Friday, a Texas federal judge ruled that prosecutors violated the rights of those killed in two Boeing 737 MAX crashes when the government settled with the company before briefing their families, reports the Wall Street Journal. The consequence, said U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, is that the families can continue to challenge the Boeing settlement, which spared the company from an indictment. Boeing admitted that employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration about the plane's automated flight-control system, which was largely blamed for pushing the aircraft into fatal nosedives in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019.

The families have argued that O'Connor has the authority to rescind what they have called Boeing’s immunity from prosecution, forcing DOJ to redo the deal with their input. The Justice Department, Boeing and the families could appeal the judge’s decisions. “The judge is sending a signal…how someone is considered a victim is much broader than how you, DOJ, are defining it,” said Michael Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor. "The DOJ is going to have to be mindful of that in the future. It gives victims greater leverage—not only in oversight, but input, into settlements.” The families have challenged prosecutors’ failure to notify them about the settlement—known as a deferred-prosecution agreement—in which Boeing paid $2.5 billion and admitted employee wrongdoing. If Boeing complies with the law for 3½ years, the charges will be dropped.

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