skip to main content
Apr 25, 2004

Unjustifiable Business

Featuring: Robert T. Cunningham, George M. Dent III, John T. Crowder Jr. and David G. Wirtes Jr.

Mobile Register 
By David S. Casey 

ExxonMobil verdict sends a clear message that scheming corporate America can't hide behind its lofty status 

Earlier this month, the Mobile Register published an opinion piece titled "Huge verdict could scare of business." That headline should have read, "Huge verdict punishes rip-off of Alabama taxpayers." 

The facts in the case are nicely summarized by one sentence from the judge's 65-page order: "Exxon engaged in a carefully planned scheme, conceived and approved at the highest echelons of its corporate offices, to keep nearly $1 billion in easy money that it knew was due the state." 
These royalties were owed the taxpayers for natural gas extracted from the sands below Mobile Bay. Exxon viewed the fraudulent scheme as, to quote the judge's order again, a "cost-free, risk-free option." 

"If it did not get caught," the order explained, ExxonMobil "would pocket up to a billion dollars of the state's money; if it did get caught and was forced to repay, it still would pocket untold millions of the state's dollars and have the use of the money for years." 

Well, Exxon did get caught, thanks to eagle-eyed oil-and-gas auditors and the talent of the lawyers for the state. The jury unanimously agreed that the company's conduct was so egregious that punitive damages were justified. 

The trail judge also excoriated the company and praised the jury's decision, while lowering the punitive judgment from $11.9 billion to $3.6 billion. 

And how does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce react when one of the wealthiest corporations in the world is caught red-handed in such a blatant swindle? It blames the justice system in Alabama. It blames the lawyers, the judge and the jury - that is, the ordinary citizens of the state. 
This is shameful. 
Former U.S. Congressman James Martin, a self-described "conservative Republican businessman," was commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation when Exxon first started pumping gas from Mobile Bay. In a recent commentary about this case, he wrote, "Exxon's despicable conduct is what is important here, or certainly at least as important as the amount of the verdict. 

"This case shows our system is working. We should praise our juries and criticize the wrongdoers, not the other way around." 

Yet the U.S. Chamber argues that large verdicts against wrongdoers scare off business. Is the chamber implying that big business will punish states that challenge swindlers, by moving to states that don't? 

Rather than attack the judge and jury who punished Exxon, why doesn't the chamber express outrage that one of its wealthiest corporate members would so deliberately cheat and swindle the taxpayers of Alabama? 

Why doesn't it work to enforce corporate responsibility and to increase public confidence in corporate behavior, rather than take the side of a corporate wrongdoer against taxpayers? 

This case - and the chamber's reaction to it - proves one more time that the tort "reform" movement, of which the chamber is a major voice, seeks only to take away the legal rights of American families and to protect those with economic and political resources from the people they injure, including taxpayers. 

The U.S. Chamber cites a survey that ranks Alabama 48th among the 50 states in terms of "legal fairness." But who participated in this survey? 

The corporate lawyers who defend Exxon when it rips off Alabama taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars, that's who. And other companies that injure or defraud consumers or employees (or taxpayers).

And many of these lawyers stated that the civil justice system does either an "excellent" or "good" job of holding corporations liable for their bad acts. Of course, the chamber doesn't trumpet these assessments - and neither did its op-ed piece in the Register. 

The truth is, no one knows better than corporate lawyers that the threat and reality of punitive damage judgements - punishment for near-criminal behavior - are the only threat that their corporate bosses really fear. With their wealth and power, they can handle the politicians. They can handle the bureaucrats. 

But you, the jury, present a problem. Corporate wrongdoers are afraid of you, as well they should be. As jurors, you carefully consider the facts and arguments offered by both sides. You are not easily fooled or cajoled. You cannot be bought at any price. 

And you almost always get it right, as every lawyer and every judge knows. 
It's amazing, when you think about it: The tort "reformers" are trying to convince the American people that their judgment can't be trusted, that their friends, neighbors and coworkers who do their patriotic duty by serving on juries are somehow undermining the fabric of our society by holding wrongdoers accountable. 

I believe in citizen juries. I believe in judges. I believe in lawyers. I believe in the safeguards built into the system. 

Yes, there are a few bad lawsuits - and judges can, should and do throw them out. 
In this case, the jury wanted to send Exxon and other companies a message about right and wrong. The judge reduced the verdict to a lesser amount that would convey the same message: "Cheat the taxpayers of Alabama and you'll be punished." 

Following this verdict in Alabama, other states and royalty-holders will certainly take a closer look at Exxon's royalty statements, and Exxon should take a closer look at its own practices. This is good, not bad. 

The allegation that a robust legal system is detrimental to business is hogwash. The United States has the most open, free and fair legal system in the world - and the most dynamic job-producing economy in the world. Justice and business work well together. 

According to three small-business surveys, Alabama ranks in the top 10 states for business. Moreover, state economic development officials say in the Register's story that the court system and the "potential exposure to large verdicts [aren't] a primary consideration" in recruiting new business to Alabama. 

Former Congressman Martin said, "I do not think this verdict shows that Alabama is a bad place for business. I think it shows that Alabama will not tolerate bad conduct by businesses." Would the Chamber of Commerce have it any other way? 

The truly conservative principle in the matter of Alabama vs. Exxon is that the bedrock of our democracy - our civil justice system, with its citizen juries, as mandated in the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution - should be left alone to function as it has for over two centuries: faithfully and well.

Related Case

$11.9 Billion Verdict

$11.9 Billion Verdict for the State of Alabama Against Exxon for Royalty Fraud

State of Alabama vs. ExxonMobil | Montgomery County, Alabama | Case No. CV-99-2368

Cunningham Bounds was retained by the State of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to assert claims of royalty fraud against E...

Related News

Feb 07, 2007

Exxon Mobil fights judgment

By Phillip Rawls  The Associated Press  The largest verdict in Alabama history went before the Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday with Ex...

Jul 18, 2004

Your Word

By JIM CLARK  Special to the Register  The editorial pages of the Mobile Register frequently contain the opinions of Skip Tucker, execu...

Mar 29, 2004

Judge cuts Alabama verdict against Exxon Mobil to $3.6 billion

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  3/29/2004, 5:21 p.m. CT  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The record $11.9 billion verdict that A...

Mar 27, 2004

Natural gas litigation means millions to state, lawyers

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  3/27/2004, 12:27 p.m. CT  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The state government's royalty dispute...

Mar 11, 2004

Judge weighs whether to reduce record $11.9 billion verdict

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A judge hearing arguments on a record $11.9 billion verdict against Ex...

Mar 09, 2004

Judge to hear arguments Thursday on record verdict

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A judge begins hearing arguments Thursday on whether to throw out or r...

Feb 10, 2004

Alabama's Exxon Mobil verdict No. 1 for 2003

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  From  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The state of Alabama's $11.9 billion verdict agains...

Feb 09, 2004

When a zebra is not a horse

David Hechler  Staff reporter  The National Law Journal  02-09-2004  Richard Dorman, Robert Cunningham and Jere Beasley took ...

Dec 12, 2003

Mobile lawyers broke record

By GARY McELROY  Staff Reporter  Mobile Register  State stuck with Cunningham, Bounds firm at retrial, and saw original award trip...

Nov 15, 2003

Jury orders Exxon Mobil to pay $11.9 billion

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  Saturday, November 15, 2003 - 12:00 AM  MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A jury ordered Exxon Mobil Co...

Nov 14, 2003

Jury returns $11.9 billion judgment against Exxon Mobil

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  11/14/2003, 12:30 p.m. CT  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The financially troubled state governm...

Nov 13, 2003

Jurors deliberate in Alabama's suit against Exxon Mobil

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  11/13/03 3:08 PM  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A Montgomery jury deliberated Thursday in a law...

Nov 12, 2003

State attorney asks for $9.5 billion in royalty case

PHILLIP RAWLS  Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A state attorney asked a jury Wednesday to find that Exxon Mobil Corp. cheated the ...

Oct 20, 2003

State Again Seeking Multi-Billion Dollar Verdict Against Exxon

By PHILLIP RAWLS  Associated Press Writer  An attorney asked a jury Monday to return another record-setting multibillion-dollar verdict...

Oct 20, 2003

Exxon Trial, Part Two, Underway

By Alabama Associated Press  The retrial of the state's natural gas royalty dispute with Exxon Mobil began Monday in Montgomery, and the sta...

Oct 20, 2003

Time Line in Exxon Mobil Natural Gas Dispute

By The Associated Press  The development of the state government's natural gas royalty dispute with Exxon Mobil:  1981 - Exxon wins th...

Oct 15, 2003

Alabama Supreme Court won't stop jury selection in record case

By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The Alabama Supreme Court refused a last-minute request by Exxon Mobil...

Oct 12, 2003

Record-setting lawsuit gets new trial amid state money woes

Record-setting lawsuit gets new trial amid state money woes  By PHILLIP RAWLS  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A la...

Nov 05, 2001

Exxon Blames Alabama Judge for Verdict

THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL  November 5, 2001  Exxon blames Ala. judge for verdict  Document key in appeal of $3.5 billion case ...

Aug 07, 2001

Inside The Firm

Tuesday, Aug 07, 2001 July 29, 2001  By GARY McELROY - Staff Reporter  Mobile Register  Three Mobile lawyers, with five paralegals ...

Jul 29, 2001

Mobile Law Firm Used Mock Trial, Records Searches to Beat Exxon

By GARY MCELROY  Staff Reporter - Mobile Register  The story of the Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown firm's battle again...

May 14, 2001

Making Them Pay

How big oil companies shortchange taxpayers on royalties  From US News and World Reports  By Jim Morris  In a frenzied three hour...

May 09, 2001

Judge Upholds Exxon Verdict

By PHILLIP RAWLS  Associated Press Writer  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A judge upheld the largest jury verdict in state history, $3.4 billi...

May 04, 2001

Judge Upholds Record $3.4 Billion Verdict Against Exxon Mobil

ASSOCIATED PRESS  MONTGOMERY, Ala., May 4 - A judge upheld the largest jury verdict in state history, $3.4 billion in punitive damages again...

May 04, 2001

Politicians Already Eyeing Exxon's Billions

The Associated Press  5/4/01 1:32 PM  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Politicians are already coming up with ideas about how to use a $3.5 bil...

Apr 19, 2001

Judge Says Her Decision Probably Won't Matter in Long Run

By DAVE BRYAN  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala- (AP) -- The state's lawyers say Exxon Mobil stood to make $1.8 billion in unpaid...

Apr 19, 2001

Expert: Exxon Can Easily Pay $4.3 Billion Award

STAN BAILEY  News staff writer  MONTGOMERY - ExxonMobil Corp. can pay the $4.3 billion fraud verdict returned against it in December a...

Apr 19, 2001

Royalty Case Zeroes in on Possible Gains

By JEFF AMY  Capital Bureau  MONTGOMERY - Lawyers for ExxonMobil Corp. and the state argued for another whole day Wednesday about whet...

Apr 18, 2001

Judge Says Her Decision Probably Won't Matter in Long Run

By DAVE BRYAN  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Exxon Mobil Chairman Ansel Condray said the oil company didn't believe i...

Apr 18, 2001

Testimony of Exxon's Witness Fails to Impress Circuit Judge

By Mike Cason  Montgomery Advertiser  Montgomery County Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey was unimpressed by the testimony of one witness ca...

Apr 18, 2001

Exxon, State Look Forward to Appeals

By JEFF AMY  Capital Bureau  MONTGOMERY - Lawyers for ExxonMobil Corp. spent Tuesday trying to convince a circuit judge that $3.42 bil...

Apr 18, 2001

Ex-chief: Exxon Expected Audit

Would have negotiated payments, Condray says  STAN BAILEY  News staff writer  MONTGOMERY - Exxon Corp. believed it was right whe...

Apr 17, 2001

Judge Hears Arguments on Whether to Reduce Record Verdict

PHLLIP RAWLS  Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A Montgomery judge will start hearing arguments Tuesday on whether to reduce ...

Apr 17, 2001

Exxon, State to Square Off Over Verdict

By JEFF AMY  Capital Bureau  MONTGOMERY - ExxonMobil Corp. will return to court today to ask a judge to radically prune the record jud...

Apr 17, 2001

Exxon Asks Judge to Change Award

By Mike Cason  Montgomery Advertiser  With their effort to win a new trial apparently lost, lawyers for Exxon Mobil Corp. today will a...

Mar 27, 2001

Local Attorneys Make National List - Twice

From the Mobile Register  By EDDIE CURRAN  Staff Reporter  Two jury verdicts won last year by the Mobile plaintiffs firm Cunning...

Mar 21, 2001

The Human Side of the Law

STREET TALK  by Jo Ann Flirt  THE HUMAN SIDE OF THE LAW: Too often it is a symbol of lady justice and her scales or a background of ne...

Mar 01, 2001

Proud - The Advisor

By David Bronner - Director, Alabama Retirement System  From the Advisor - Monthly Newsletter to the Retirement System of Alabama  The...

Feb 19, 2001

A 'State-friendly' Oil Lease Pays Off for Alabama

NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL  Case Type: breach of lease, fraud  Case: Exxon Corp. v. Department of Conservation and Nat. Res., CV-99-2368 (Mo...

Jan 30, 2001

Judge Refuses New Trial in Record Verdict

MOBILE REGISTER  - Jury decided in December that Exxon Mobil defrauded Alabama on royalties from natural gas wells  Montgomery - A jud...

Jan 23, 2001

Exxon Jurors Deserved More Respect

MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER  Regrettably Skip Tucker has impugned the character, intelligence and integrity of the twelve citizens of Montgomery C...

Jan 15, 2001

Nailing Exxon for $3.5B with Nine Key Documents

The National Law Journal  From interview with John T. Crowder Jr.  CASE: Exxon Corp. v. Department of Conservation and Natural Resourc...

Jan 13, 2001

Exxon's Defense a Letdown

Mobile Register  1/13/01  EXXON’S DEFENSE A LETDOWN  I have been following with great interest the news stories, editorial...

Jan 04, 2001

Winner in Exxon Case Poised for Big Payoff

R. Robin McDonald  Fulton County Daily Report  Mobile, Ala., attorney John T. Crowder Jr. first suspected oil companies were underpayi...

Jan 02, 2001

Exxon Ordered to Pay $3.5 billion to Alabama in Royalties Dispute

The National Law Journal  In a verdict that defendant ExxonMobil Corp. called "manifestly unfair," a Montgomery, AL jury has awarded the sta...

Jan 01, 2001

Seems Like a 'Windfall' Is In Eye of Beholder

Mobile Register  On the front page of the Dec. 20 Register was a picture of one of the lawyers representing the State of Alabama against Exx...

Jan 01, 2001

Think of the Work the Lawyers Had To Do

Mobile Register  A few thoughts on the Register's Dec. 21 editorial on the "absurd" penalty in the Exxon case:  For comparison purpose...

Jan 01, 2001

Editorial Took Cheap Shot at Lawyer's Firm

Mobile Register  The Register's Dec. 21 editorial was misleading relative to certain key facts concerning the jury verdict against Exxon in ...

Dec 31, 2000

Pryor: State's use of Private Lawyers Not Odd

The Mobile Register  Even though the state has staff attorneys capable of handling complicated lawsuits, Alabama's recent use of private tri...

Dec 29, 2000

Editorial's Anti-Lawyer Bias Hurts the State

Mobile Register  The pro-business and anti-lawyer bias in the Register's editorial concerning the Exxon verdict is both obvious and harmful ...

Dec 28, 2000

Exxon Award Shows Value of Jury Trials

Montgomery Advertiser  The recent $3 billion punitive damage award against Exxon dramatically demonstrates the need for jury trials. It is a...

Dec 25, 2000

If Exxon is Guilty, the Stern Verdict is Justified

from the Montgomery Advertiser  How's this for a hefty fine: $800 for every man, woman and child in Alabama? That's about what a Montgomery ...

Dec 24, 2000

Lease Key to $3.5 Billion

The Birmingham News  The main reason Alabama won a jaw-dropping $3.5 billion verdict against Exxon Mobil might boil down to this: Bob Macror...

Dec 22, 2000

Tort Reformers Mostly Ignore Exxon Verdict

Mobile Register  Maybe it's because the state would get the money. Maybe it's because the state, instead of some lonely consumer, was the pl...

Dec 21, 2000

Hefty Punitive Award Brings Mixed Feelings

Birmingham Post Herald  State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. is of two minds about Tuesday's verdict that resulted in a record $3.5 billion award for ...

Dec 21, 2000

Tough Lease Agreement Trips Up Exxon

Mobile Register  When then-Exxon Corp. bought leases to drill for natural gas and oil off Alabama's coast, it signed a lease with the state ...

Dec 21, 2000

State May Wait Years for Any Money

The Associated Press  The state and its attorneys may wait years to see any money from a jury's record $3.5 billion verdict against Exxon Mo...

Dec 21, 2000

Southeast Bond-Watch Alabama

The Bond Buyer  Officials saw the possibility of depositing a record-setting award into Alabama's coffers on Tuesday, after a jury handed do...

Dec 21, 2000

Slaying a Giant: The Case of Alabama vs. Exxon Mobil

The Anniston Star online  The $3.5 billion verdict a jury awarded the state of Alabama against Exxon Mobil Corp. on Tuesday will be a boon t...

Dec 20, 2000


Montgomery Advertiser  Exxon case sends strong message. Like the proverbial 2 by 4 applied to the forehead of a bulky mule, Tuesday's $3.5 b...

Dec 20, 2000

Other Oil Companies Face Similar Lawsuits

Mobile Register  Though Tuesday's verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. stands to be the biggest of the state's suits for recovering underpaid o...

Dec 20, 2000

State Wins Exxon Lawsuit

Montgomery Advertiser  A Montgomery County jury on Tuesday ordered Exxon Mobil Corporation to pay Alabama $3.5 billion for an alleged scheme...

Dec 20, 2000

Alabama Court Orders Exxon Mobil To Pay $3.5 Billion in Royalties Suit

A Montgomery, Ala., state-court jury hit Exxon Mobil Corp. with a $3.5 billion judgment for underpaying natural-gas royalties from wells in Gulf C...

Dec 20, 2000

Huge Exxon Verdict a Record for Alabama

Mobile Register  World's largest oil company to appeal finding that it underpaid offshore natural gas royalties to Alabama MONTGOMERY - A C...

Dec 20, 2000

Alabama Jury Orders ExxonMobil To Pay $3.5B In Damages

Wall Street Journal  NEW YORK -- An Alabama jury Tuesday ordered ExxonMobil Corp. (XOM) to pay $3.5 billion in damages in a dispute over roy...

Dec 20, 2000

Exxon Told to Pay Alabama $3.5 Billion for Natural Gas

Source: The New York Times Section: National  The Exxon Mobil Corporation, the nation's largest oil company, was ordered by an Alabama jury ...

Dec 20, 2000

Managers and Managing: Exxon Mobil Faces Big Payout in Alabama Over Gas Royalties

The Wall Street Journal Europe  Exxon Mobil Corp. was hit by a Montgomery, Alabama, state-court jury with a $3.5 billion (3.92 billion euros...

Dec 19, 2000

State Seeks $3 billion in Exxon Case

Mobile Register  - Lawyers say oil company cheated Alabama out of natural gas royalties.  Montgomery - Attorneys for the state accused...

Dec 19, 2000

Exxon Ordered to Pay $3.5 Bln on Fraud Claims

Montgomery, Alabama, Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) - Exxon Mobil Corp. was ordered by a jury to pay $3.5 billion, one of the largest punitive damage awards,...

Dec 19, 2000

Exxon to Pay $3.5 Billion in Suit

CNNfn  A jury returned a $3.5 billion verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. on Tuesday, finding the oil company defrauded Alabama on royalties f...

Dec 19, 2000

State Gets $3.5 Billion Judgment vs. Exxon

The Decatur Daily News  By Phillip Rawls, AP Writer  A jury returned a $3.5 billion verdict against Exxon today, finding the oil compa...

Dec 19, 2000

Jury Orders Exxon Mobil to Pay $3.5 Billion

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- A jury returned a $3.5 billion verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. on Tuesday, finding the oil company defrauded Alabama on...

Dec 18, 2000

State Pursues Exxon Lawsuit

Mobile Register by Phillip Rawls  Attorneys for the state accused Exxon of repeatedly cheating Alabama on royalties from natural gas wells a...

Dec 06, 2000

Exxon Gas Royalties Trial Begins

The Montgomery Advertiser  Exxon owes Alabama $87.7 million in natural gas royalties plus "substantial punitive damages," an attorney for th...

Dec 02, 2000

Jury to Hear Testimony in Exxon Suit

The Montgomery Advertiser  A jury could hear testimony Tuesday in lawsuit over $132 million in oil and gas royalties that Alabama officials ...

Jul 06, 2000

State to Audit for Millions

Mobile Register  Montgomery - Alabama landowners could be in line for millions of dollars if a plan to audit oil companies is as successful ...

Jul 06, 2000

Alabama Seeks $132 Million From Exxon

The Tuscaloosa News  The state of Alabama is suing a major energy producer, seeking more than $132 million in back royalty payments from oil...

May 07, 1999

Panel OKs Funds for Lawyers

Chattanooga Times / Chattanooga Free Press  Panel OKs Funds for Lawyers  The Associated Press  MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A legislati...

Better Business Bureau Accredited Business

1-251-471 6191 TOLL FREE 1-800-472-6191

Cunningham Bounds LLC Circle Logo
Website developed and designed by Cubicle Fugitive