A lawyer for Kevin Costner told a court his fame was the only reason fellow Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin and another person were suing him over their investments in an oil clean-up device tried out after BP’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Baldwin and his friend Spyridon Contogouris claim Costner and business partner Patrick Smith duped them out of their shares of an $18m deal for BP to buy oil-separating centrifuges after the April 2010 spill.
Costner’s lawyer, Wayne Lee, said his client played no role in Baldwin and Mr Contogouris’ decision to sell their shares in a company that marketed the centrifuges to the energy company for $1.4m and $500,000 respectively.
“Kevin Costner is here for one reason and one reason only: He’s famous,” Mr Lee said in opening statements at the trial in New Orleans.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer James Cobb accused Costner and Mr Smith of spinning a web of lies that cheated his clients out of millions of dollars, telling the eight jurors that the case was about deception “fuelled by power and greed”.
Baldwin and Mr Contogouris are seeking more than $21m in damages. Costner and other defendants are also seeking damages in counter-claims.
US District Judge Martin Feldman told jurors they could not be swayed by the celebrity status of Baldwin and Costner, who sat at opposite ends of the courtroom.
“Celebrity has no place in this courtroom or in any of the issues that need to be resolved,” the judge said.
Among Baldwin’s roles was caveman Barney Rubble in 'The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas'.
Costner’s films include 'Dances With Wolves', 'Field Of Dreams', 'The Bodyguard' and 'JFK', Oliver Stone’s film with New Orleans connections to the assassination of President John F Kennedy.
Mr Lee said Costner, who had lost about $20m in an earlier effort to market the centrifuge technology to the oil and gas industry, decided to lobby BP to use the devices after the oil spill because he wanted to help protect the Gulf Coast from the nation’s worst such offshore incident.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Mr Lee said.
Baldwin and Costner are expected to give evidence at the trial. Baldwin said his lawyers had advised him not to comment.
At the height of BP’s efforts to stop the massive flow of oil from its blown-out well, the company ordered 32 of the centrifuges and deployed a few of the machines on a barge in June 2010. BP capped the well the following month and the well was permanently sealed in September 2010.
Baldwin and Mr Contogouris claim they were deliberately excluded from a June 8 meeting between Costner, Mr Smith and BP executive Doug Suttles, who agreed to make an $18m deposit on a $52m order for the 32 machines.
As the trial’s first witness, Mr Smith said Contogouris was highly involved in the efforts to secure a deal with BP and had only himself to blame for missing the June 8 meeting with Mr Suttles.
“He exited on his own accord, prior to the meeting,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Cobb said his clients said they did not know about the deal when they agreed to sell their combined 38% ownership stake in Ocean Therapy Solutions for $1.9m.
“They concealed the fact that BP looked favourably upon funding this,” Mr Cobb said.
Mr Cobb said “insult was added to injury” when Costner and Mr Smith used BP’s deposit to buy out Baldwin and Mr Contogouris’ shares in OTS.
Mr Smith’s lawyer, Roy Cheatwood, said Baldwin and Mr Contogouris “hedged their bets” and sold their shares before BP committed to the deal.
“They want their cake and they want to eat it, too,” Mr Cheatwood said. “They want the money they had and they want the money they chose not to risk.”
Pacific West Resources, a company operated by Costner and Mr Smith, also is a defendant in the case.