Families of Boeing Max jet crash victims fail to reopen US settlement

Families of people killed in two Boeing 737 Max crashes lost their bid to reopen or reject a controversial agreement the aircraft manufacturer struck with federal prosecutors in 2021.

federal judge in Texas declined to revisit Boeing’s 2021 deferred-prosecution agreement, saying he lacked the authority to order a “substantive review and disapproval or modification” of the deal, which shields the company from fraud charges so long as it meets certain conditions.

“The court has no occasion to address whether the DPA is in fact grossly incommensurate with Boeing’s egregious criminal conduct,” US District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote in his decision.

The families had said Boeing violated the pact when it pleaded not guilty in Texas last month to a fraud charge tied to its role in hiding flight control flaws from regulators.

They had also asked the judge to appoint an independent monitor to supervise the company’s compliance – a request the judge declined.

“The families are disappointed with Judge O’Connor’s ruling, and we plan to appeal to the Fifth Circuit,” said Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who is representing the families.

“We are optimistic our appeal will vindicate the families’ rights in this case and ensure that never again are deals like this one reached secretly and without victim involvement.”

Design flaws in the 737 Max were blamed for crashes of a Lion Air flight in 2018 and an Ethiopian Airlines plane in 2019, which killed a combined 346 people. Some of their relatives have been working to unwind Boeing’s agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), arguing it was flawed because they were never consulted on terms.

Judge O’Connor said he wasn’t insensitive to the families’ plea.

“This court has immense sympathy for the victims and loved ones of those who died in the tragic plane crashes resulting from Boeing’s criminal conspiracy,” the judge wrote.

“Had Congress vested this court with sweeping authority to ensure that justice is done in a case like this one, it would not hesitate.”

Boeing and the DOJ have resisted efforts to revisit the deal, arguing the company has been in compliance for the first two years of the three-year agreement.

Judge O’Connor said he didn’t believe the government acted in bad faith, and that excluding the families from those conversations was nothing more than a “legal error”.

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