It’s a story with Hollywood egos, environmental destruction, intrigue, legal complexity and betrayal. Just throw in a hot, dusty New Orleans courtroom and seersuckered lawyers arguing their case in a bayou drawl, and you’ve got yourself a John Grisham movie.
If the ongoing legal battle between Stephen Baldwin and Kevin Costner weren’t reality, it would make a heck of a movie script.
Jury selection at U.S. District Court in New Orleans began Monday in the lawsuit in which Baldwin (The Usual Suspects) is suing Costner (Field of Dreams), alleging that he’d duped Baldwin and a business partner out of their shares of an $18 million deal in which BP would buy centrifuges designed to separate oil and water after the April 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Costner is currently busy working on the latest “Superman” reboot, Man of Steel.
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According to the court complaint, Costner financed and oversaw the development of the separation technology in the early 1990s. His company approached an associate of Stephen Baldwin’s named Spyridon Contogouris about marketing the technology and the two entered an agreement in which Contogouris would receive a commission on the sales of the devices. But attempts to monetize the technology failed, and Contogouris eventually sold all of his rights to a Nevada businessman named Bret Shelton, who continued to operate the firm Costner set up to develop the devices.
After the April 2010 oil spill, Contogouris contacted Costner to talk about selling the technology to BP, for use in responding to the environmental disaster, only to be dismissed because he no longer had an interest in the company. Contogouris contacted Shelton to discuss obtaining an “exclusive agreement” to market the devices for use in the Gulf.
At around the same time, Baldwin was in New Orleans to discuss a film project; he and Contogouris eventually convinced Costner (and several others) to enter into an agreement to form a venture to market the technology called Ocean Therapy Solutions.
The arrangement didn’t last. While the consortium persuaded BP to give its centrifuges a trial run, fallings-out between its many members developed into a complicated legal battle royale, with both Contogouris and Baldwin either trying to buy out Costner or sell their interests in the group while BP declined to make a formal agreement to buy the technology.
(MORE: Is the Gulf Oil Spill Story Over? Not Really)
The lawsuit claims that by the time BP finally signed a $52 million contract with Ocean Therapy Solutions on June 8, 2010 — a deal which Costner had mentioned in testimony before Congress the previous day — Contogouris and Baldwin had been shut out by the Bull Durham star and two of the other partners.
Contogouris contends that one of the other partners, Patrick Smith, had told him that BP never placed any such order, and that he believed Costner had testified to the contrary in order to pressure BP into making a commitment. They are accusing the defendants of failing to disclose BP’s $18 million advance deposit and to keep any other funds that would be coming from the deal.
“These actions and omissions were part of a plan by defendants to implement a selective distribution scheme and deny plaintiffs their pro-rata right to a distribution,” read the complaint by Baldwin and Contogouris, who are suing for a tidy $21 million.
Costner, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the case, called it “frivolous” — adding that he had the legal right to file a counterclaim but had been advised by his legal counsel not to say much.
“We have spills every day around the world. We don’t have an adult response to how to clean it up,” he said. “I knew how to do it 20 years ago in a very engineered, scientific way. But the oil industry didn’t beat a path to my door. Twenty million dollars of my own money later, I have the Baldwin lawsuit, and it’s completely upsetting to me.”