Boeing ordered to appear at hearing for 737 Max crash victims’ families

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Boeing Co. was ordered to appear at a public arraignment in Texas next week on a felony charge related to two crashes of its 737 Max jets, as some victims’ families fight to unwind a plea deal that the company reached with US prosecutors.

The aircraft manufacturer has so far avoided prosecution under terms of its 2021 agreement with the US Justice Department. But US District Judge Reed O’Connor on Thursday ordered a Boeing representative to attend a Jan. 26 hearing, where family members of passengers killed in the crashes will have an opportunity to testify.

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“We are pleased that the Court has agreed with our request for an arraignment, and rejected arguments from Boeing and the US Justice Department,” Paul G. Cassel, an attorney representing the families, said in a statement. “The families look forward to addressing the company responsible for their loved ones’ deaths.”

In October, O’Connor declared the families to be official crime victims as a result of 737 Max crashes that killed 189 people on a Lion Air flight in 2018 and 157 on an Ethiopian Air jet in 2019. After a protracted legal battle, the judge ruled prosecutors should have consulted with the families and must solicit their feedback prior to making good on the agreement.

A representative of Boeing, Connor Greenwood, declined to comment on Thursday’s order.

Under the original deferred-prosecution agreement, Boeing would plead guilty to defrauding federal regulators and was ordered to pay $2.5 billion in fines and compensation, including a $243.6 million penalty. The company also was granted immunity from criminal prosecution.

Families of the crash victims asked O’Connor to arraign Boeing in December of 2021, but the request was on hold while the judge considered their status as official crime victims. At the time, Boeing argued that an arraignment on the pending felony charge was unnecessary because a plea deal had already been reached.

O’Connor wrote in Thursday’s order that, while some courts have waived the requirement for an arraignment in similar situations, the circumstances of the case require a public hearing on the felony charge of conspiracy facing the company.

Representatives for Boeing and the Department of Justice have asked O’Connor not to re-open the original agreement, according to court filings in the case.

US Attorneys argued in a December filing that re-opening the agreement would “risk the concrete gains and concessions that the Government secured from Boeing. Attorneys for Boeing noted in a separate filing that the company has already been abiding by the terms of the agreement for two years.

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