Security firm sues lawyer over lawsuit in Iraq death case
It says the families of Hawaii resident Wesley Batalona and his colleagues breached the men's employment contract
RALEIGH, N.C. » Private security contractor Blackwater USA is seeking $10 million from the attorney representing the estates of four employees killed and mutilated in Iraq, arguing their families breached the security guards' contracts by suing the company for wrongful death.
A frenzied mob of insurgents ambushed Paauilo resident Wesley J.K. Batalona, Scott Helvenston, Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, and Michael R. Teague in March 2004 as they escorted a supply convoy through Fallujah, Iraq.
The insurgents burned and mutilated the guards and strung two of the bodies from a bridge.
The gruesome scene, caught on camera and broadcast worldwide, prompted the U.S. military to launch a three-week siege of Fallujah.
The families said yesterday that Blackwater also has asked a federal court to move the dispute into arbitration, having failed so far in its ongoing efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Arbitration is necessary "in order to safeguard both (Blackwater's) own confidential information as well as sensitive information implicating the interest of the United States at war," attorneys for Blackwater Security Consulting, a unit of Moyock-based Blackwater USA, wrote in a petition filed December 20.
Dan Callahan, a California-based attorney representing the families, called the claim "appalling."
"This is a shock-and-awe tactic," Callahan said yesterday.
Blackwater's attorneys declined to comment.
The four families, represented by estates administrator Richard Nordan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater in January 2005 in state court.
Family members argue Blackwater broke contractual obligations and used cost-saving measures that ultimately led to the deaths of the four men.
Blackwater's counterclaim for $10 million specifically names Nordan and not the estates or the men's families.
"The $10 million is a scare tactic," said Katy Helvenston, mother of Scott Helvenston. "I'm not concerned about that at all because the whole thing's a farce. It's just another excuse to delay."