- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A federal judge is drafting a questionnaire to weigh whether prosecutors are conflicted in the criminal case over a massive chemical spill in West Virginia last year.

In U.S. District Court in Charleston on Wednesday, Judge Thomas Johnston said he is close to finalizing the 19 question survey for U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and two other prosecutors in his office. They are filling out the surveys because they live in neighborhoods that were banned from using tap water for days because of the January 2014 spill.

The spill from a leaky Freedom Industries tank in Charleston spurred the ban for 300,000 people.

The judge’s draft would question prosecutors on various subjects ranging from their kids’ ages to whether anyone in their households worked in a business negatively affected by the spill.

Former Freedom officials Gary Southern and Dennis Farrell, who have pleaded not guilty to pollution charges, contend that Goodwin’s office shouldn’t handle the case because some of its members were impacted by the spill.

Southern also pleaded not guilty to fraud charges stemming from Freedom’s bankruptcy case and could face up to 88 years in prison if convicted.

Federal prosecutors have argued that recusing their office would be contrary to law and would oppose public interest.

Johnston batted down several attempts by defense attorneys to add questions to the survey. He said the rejected questions were beyond the survey’s purpose but not necessarily outside the scope of what could be considered in arguments about disqualifying Goodwin’s office.

For example, the defense requested social media posts by Goodwin’s wife, state Tourism Commissioner Amy Shuler Goodwin, and how she was impacted by the spill. Defense attorneys cited media reports about the spill’s negative effects on tourism.

Johnston said copies of responses by prosecutors will be provided to the defendants but likely will be redacted for privacy reasons. The responses may be redacted or sealed from public view, he added.

In court filings Tuesday, prosecutors wrote that plea agreements with William Tis and Charles Herzing say they are willing to provide testimony in cases against fellow former Freedom officials Southern and Farrell.

Tis, Herzing, two other ex-Freedom officials and the company itself have pleaded guilty to pollution charges.

Additional hearings are slated for next month and June before the Oct. 6 trial for Southern and Farrell.

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