In the case of Stephen Baldwin v. Kevin Costner, it only took the jury two hours to return with its verdict: Costner is not liable. The case revolved around a device sold to BP after the 2010 Gulf oil spill that would assist in the cleanup effort.
Both Costner and Baldwin owned shares in Ocean Therapy Solutions which created a device to separate oil from water. Baldwin and his friend, Spyridon Contogouris, sold their shares in the company shortly before it closed a $52 million dollar deal with BP.
At stake in the suit: $17 million dollars Baldwin claimed in lost profits.
Baldwin sued Costner in December 2010, claiming Costner coerced him into selling the shares without disclosing the potential BP deal.
Costner denied that, saying Baldwin knew that the deal was on the table. Instead of waiting to see if the deal would go through, Baldwin cashed out.
The jury agreed with Costner.
Misleading a shareholder about potential profits or losses is an element of securities fraud, but it takes more than a showing of lost profits. Baldwin would have to prove that Costner misrepresented the BP deal and that those statements influenced Baldwin's decision to sell.
Baldwin and Contogouris were urged not to sell Ocean Therapy Solutions CEO John Houghtaling testified. He tried to persuade them to stay with the company based on the likelihood of the BP deal.
In a case like this, with little hard evidence, the credibility of the witnesses is paramount. Baldwin's attorney, James Cobb, said the jury was swayed by Costner's greater celebrity rather than the facts.
That statement seems disingenuous, in light of some anecdotes the jury heard about Baldwin at trial. Baldwin threatened to expose information about Costner if he refused to settle, according to a BP contractor.
As for the device sold to BP - despite the sum paid, only a few of them were actually used. BP only deployed a handful before the leak was capped in September 2010.