Mutiny On The Iberville: The Most Thrilling Legal Opinion Of The Year

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Usually, the written opinions authored by appeals court judges are pretty drab stuff. Too much legalese to decode and certainly not a lot in the way of plot, much less action.

Then there’s Judge Bailey Moseley. He recently issued an opinion from the state's Sixth Court of Appeals that reads more like a swashbuckling novel of decadence, betrayal, jealousy and bloodshed than the typical snore.

The first chapter, or section, of the piece is titled “Mutiny on the Iberville.”

Moseley outlines that the case is about Captain Bobby Roberts Jr. who was commanding a ship off the coast of Angola when his boss, the Rigdon Marine Corporation, told him take the helm of another vessel called the Iberville. Roberts job was to bring order to the ship, crewed by a mix of Americans and Angolans, who along with Captain Jay Heater had taken to drinking, drugging, and fighting.

A Rigdon supervisor had promised Roberts that he would “remove certain troublesome members of the crew from the ship,” writes Moseley. “This promise to ensure Roberts’ safety was rendered meaningless when Roberts was brutally assaulted during his first day aboard the Iberville.”

Right off the bat, Heater was pissed that Roberts was replacing him.

“As problems presented themselves throughout the day,” Moseley writes, “Heater would repeatedly ask Roberts when issues arose, ‘Do you want me to handle this as the captain or are you going to handle it as the captain?’

Roberts’ first night aboard the ship, an American crew member slipped into town and returned drunk. He either spat or sat on an Angolan shipmate, kick-starting a beef between the two nationalities. However, when Roberts told the men he would boot the drunken sailor off the boat in the morning, the crew appeared to calm down.

Thinking all was well, Roberts returned to the ship’s bridge, when out of nowhere Heater poked his head through the door and “once again asked, ‘Are you going to handle this as captain or am I?’” writes Moseley. “Roberts, attempting to discern the problem to which Heater made reference, came to the door where Heater stood and was encountered by an unidentified Angolan assailant on the deck who rambunctiously proclaimed, ‘You’re not the captain, you die; you die now.’ The assailant drew a knife and began to pummel Roberts with his fists.”

Roberts managed to wiggle away and locked himself in the ship’s head.

“Irate Angolan crew members began to surround the secured doors shielding Roberts,” tells Moseley. “Heater, disobeying a direct order from Roberts, opened a locked door, allowing angry Angolans to enter … the Angolans hit him numerous times in the face, kicked him, and caused him to tumble down the stairs with four of the assailants atop him. At the foot of the stairs, they continued thrashing Roberts so severely that ‘there was blood all over the walls.’”

In terms of legal briefs, that’s some good action.

As for the case itself, Roberts was suing Rigdon for failing to provide a seaworthy crew and vessel. In the end, Moseley sided with Roberts, upholding a jury verdict in favor of Roberts for $1.5 million.

-- Chris Vogel

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