Hazelwood Sentenced to Help Clean Sound, Pay $50,000
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Former Exxon Valdez Capt. Joseph Hazelwood was sentenced Friday to help clean up Prince William Sound and pay $50,000 in restitution by a judge seeking to soothe outrage over the nation’s worst oil spill.
Superior Court Judge Karl Johnstone, in sentencing Hazelwood to 1,000 hours of community service by cleaning beaches, said he was disappointed that the fired skipper had not publicly apologized for his role in the disaster.
″I’m sure deep down he is very shameful,″ the judge said. Johnstone, however, acknowledged that Hazelwood had been advised by his lawyers to keep silent because of the many civil lawsuits he still faces.
Hazelwood’s attorneys said they thought the sentence for a single misdemeanor conviction of negligence would be overturned on appeal, in part because the order to pay $50,000 in restitution to the state was illegal.
The defense attorneys said Johnstone chose an arbitrary figure without measuring Hazelwood’s ability to pay.
The judge also gave Hazelwood the maximum jail term of 90 days and fine of $1,000, but suspended both sentences, saying he felt prison would not deter Hazelwood.
″Imprisonment is not going to restore the environment,″ the judge said. ″But there is community outrage and something has to be done to provide condemnation and reaffirmation.″
Johnstone, who presided over Hazelwood’s seven-week trial, said he felt the captain was wrong to drink before he boarded his ship and believed he violated at least some Coast Guard regulations in the grounding a year ago Saturday.
A 12-member jury found Hazelwood guilty Thursday of a charge of negligent discharge of oil into state waters. But he was acquitted of three other charges, including a felony, that he was reckless and drunk during the disaster that blackened the rocky shoreline of Prince William Sound.
Had he been convicted of all four, Hazelwood could have received a maximum 7 1/4 years and a $61,000 fine.
Hazelwood’s lawyers said they would appeal the conviction as well as the sentence, and Johnstone said he would stay the sentence as soon as that appeal is filed.
One of Hazelwood’s lawyers later issued a statement accusing the judge of ″Hazelwood bashing″ and said Johnstone’s criticism of the skipper for drinking and being off the bridge of his ship improperly tried to override the jury’s verdict.
″In light of the jury verdict this type of demagoguery should stop,″ said attorney Thomas Russo.
He said 90 percent of Johnstone’s comments Friday were directed at what the jury already had decided, absolving Hazelwood of recklessness and intoxication.
Another Hazelwood attorney, Dick Madson, told reporters after the sentencing, ″The restitution is illegal, I think. The judge has no right to set an arbitrary figure like that.″
Madson said that in almost any crime a judge can assess a figure for restitution, an amount that goes to the victim rather than to the state as would a normal fine.
He said, however, such an assessment always involves measuring the defendant’s ability to pay and degree of responsibility. Johnstone made no such inquiry, and the Madson asserted this would invalidate the the assessment.
Madson called the order to perform community service ″a novel way to come up with a fair sentence,″ but he and another Hazelwood attorney, Michael Chalos, said they thought the 1,000 hours were excessive since the sentence would exceed the maximum 90 days in jail allowed under the law.
Even if Hazelwood worked 8 hours a day cleaning beaches, they said, he could not finish 1,000 hours within 3 months.
The judge’s decision also meet with the disapproval of the jury forewoman, Lori Wing, who was in the courtroom along with four other jurors for the sentencing.
″I had high hopes he would walk out of here a free man and get on with his life,″ she said.
Hazelwood had no immediate comment on the sentencing. Madson said Hazelwood had come to court expecting the worst: jail time. After Thursday’s verdict, Hazelwood had commented, ″I’d like to go back to the sea. That’s what I do.″
Assistant District Attorney Brent Cole, in remarks before the sentencing, cited Hazelwood’s history of two drunken driving convictions and declared that ″Captain Hazelwood is probably, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 3 or 4 as to his likelihood of rehabilitation.″
The skipper’s future also is clouded by more than 100 lawsuits filed by assorted victims of the spill.
The Exxon Valdez, a 987-foot tanker, ran aground on March 24, 1989, and gushed nearly 11 million gallons of oil into the pristine sound.
It killed countless birds, fish and wildlife in the scenic area, and Exxon came under bitter criticism for failing to respond quickly with a clean up effort.
Hazelwood was charged last year with a felony, criminal mischief, and three misdemeanors, reckless endangerment, operating a vessel while intoxicated, and negligent discharge of oil. Jurors took only 10 1/2 hours in deliberations to reject all but one count.
Two of them said afterward that they rejected the state’s contention Hazelwood was impaired by alcohol when the ship grounded because blood alcohol tests were performed on the skipper 10 1/2 hours after the tanker hit the reef.
In his ruling, however, Johnstone condemned Hazelwood: ″I think Captain Hazelwood knows that no reasonably prudent person would have had those drinks or left the bridge. In my opinion, he violated at least a couple of Coast Guard regulations and that constitutes negligence.
″I think Captain Hazelwood knows the buck stops with him and he has to take responsibility,″ the judge said.
But Jim Morakis, an Exxon spokesman in New York, said Thursday that the verdict ″would seem to confirm the view that the grounding of the Exxon Valdez was an accident.″
Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper said Hazelwood’s acquittal on the most serious charges shows that someone other than the veteran mariner was responsible for the grounding.
″The result bears out the fact that there are other people responsible for this, other than Captain Hazelwood,″ said Cowper.