(June 3, 2003) -- In a significant development, the Long Beach City Prosecutor's office has obtained a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) [for the moment, details below] from JetBlue Airways as part of a Consent Decree settling misdemeanor criminal charges it filed against the carrier.
The Consent Decree stems from allegations in the City Prosecutor's criminal complaint that on ten separate occasions in 2002, JetBlue violated LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance (Muni Code § 16.43.100) with flights that exceeded the law's single event noise exposure level with no reasonable basis for believing those flights would comply with the city's law. The Consent Decree further recites that after filing the criminal complaint, twenty more violations are alleged to have occurred between December 20, 2002 and March 26, 2003. The Consent Decree encompasses all the alleged violations.
LBReport.com obtained the Consent Decree from public record courthouse documents. We have posted it verbatim in pdf form on a link below. An item on the June 3 City Council agenda indicates City Prosecutor Reeves has scheduled a presentation for the Council and the public regarding the Consent Decree.
The Consent Decree provides that from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2006 -- and subject to renewal in one year increments on notice by either party -- JetBlue and City Hall will abide by a system in which JetBlue will pay $3,000 for each of the first six times in any calendar quarter it violates section 16.43.100 of LB Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance. The amount escalates to $6,000 per violation for such violations thereafter in that calendar quarter.
These sums are considerably larger than the ordinance's $500 maximum amount for each such violation (which can become $1,500 for each violation with penalty assessments) if a judge were to impose it [not always certain].
As part of the Consent Decree, JetBlue also agrees to pay a lump sum of $90,000 to the LB Public Library Foundation by July 1/03. [The $3,000 and $6,000 also appear to be payable to the LB Public Library Foundation.]
Under the Consent Decree, the City Prosecutor's office agrees to refrain from further criminal prosecution of JetBlue under the city's Airport Noise Ordinance provision for the duration of the Consent Decree or any renewal period.
Under the Consent Decree, JetBlue agreed to plead nolo contendere to five of the ten similar noise violation counts, with sentencing on those counts continued for the duration of the Consent Decree. (Proceedings on the other five counts are suspended as long as JetBlue performs under the Consent Decree).
Upon completion of JetBlue's performance under the Consent Decree, the criminal complaint is to be dismissed...and JetBlue is permitted to withdraw its nolo contendere plea.
The Consent Decree recites that it arises out of a series of incidents between June 12, 2002 and October 25, 2002 in which JetBlue was alleged to have operated and/or departed from LB Airport in excess of the 79 dB SENEL limit governing operations between 11:00 p.m. and 6:59 a.m. City Hall, acting through its Airport bureau, referred the incidents to the City Prosecutor's office for misdemeanor prosecution, which filed a ten count complaint in Superior Court alleging those violations.
The Consent Decree states that after the filing of the criminal complaint, "twenty additional violations [of the Airport Noise Ordinance section] are alleged to have occurred" between December 20, 2002 and March 26, 2003.
The Consent Decree, signed by the parties May 22-23, and filed in court and approved by Superior Court [Long Beach] Commissioner John H. Ing on May 30, notes that JetBlue "continues to deny each and all of the claims and contentions alleged in the complaint and expressly denies any wrongdoing or legal liability relating to the aforementioned incidents, and that entry into this Consent Decree is the most appropriate means of resolving the issues herein."
The Consent Decree is signed by JetBlue Airways VP Gov't Affairs, Assoc. Gen'l Counsel Robert C. Land; Attorney for Defendant JetBlue, Robert S. Stemler, of the firm Keesal, Young & Logan; and LB Deputy City Prosecutor, John Fentis.
In December, 2002 the City Prosecutor's office also filed misdemeanor charges under LB's Airport Noise Compatibility Ordinance against American Airlines and Komar Aviation (a charter service). Komar previously pleaded nolo contendere and was fined $2,500.
The case against American Airlines is still pending, with arraignment continued to July.
To view the Consent Decree in pdf form, click on Consent Decree (People v. Jet Blue).