A few thoughts on the Register's Dec. 21 editorial on the "absurd" penalty in the Exxon case:
For comparison purposes, let's look at what Exxon did through the eyes of the criminal (vs. the civil) justice system. If Exxon were an individual, and not one of the world's largest corporations, and if Exxon committed a criminal fraud such as tax evasion and was found guilty of that criminal offense, he (the individual) could be sentenced to several years in prison.
The editorial points out that the penalty the jury imposed on Exxon amounted to a "full half of the corporation's annual worldwide profits." The editorial's objection "is not the basic decision but the amount of the penalty." If our tax-cheating individual, also convicted by a jury (of a criminal offense), were sentenced to even a minimal one year in prison, what percentage of his annual income would he lose?
The editorial also opined that Gov. Don Siegelman should "worry about the frightening message it (the penalty) sends to businesses." What might that message be? "Come to Alabama, cheat the people of this state out of our fair share of the profits from our natural resources, and we'll hold you accountable"? Is that such a bad message?
And finally, the lawyers' fee. Let us not forget the risk they took. There was no guarantee they would get a dime in compensation. Any fee they earned was contingent on two things: winning the case and the amount of the verdict.
Then there are the skill and expertise, accumulated over a lifetime of work, study and experience, to place them in a position to even bid on the contract to prosecute this case. Is the $490 million excessive? Perhaps, but would the Register's editorial department bemoan the financial loss Cunningham, Bounds would have suffered had the jury ruled in favor of Exxon? Somehow, I doubt it.
So, the lawyers are going to get $490 million. Before the editorial board vilifies them too much, don't forget their superb job will net the state over $2.9 billion above the $87.7 million that Exxon was convicted of defrauding the state (if the verdict stand). Pretty good return for the state, if you ask me.