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JUDGE REFUSES NEW TRIAL IN RECORD VERDICT

Jan 30, 2001

MOBILE REGISTER

- Jury decided in December that Exxon Mobil defrauded Alabama on royalties from natural gas wells

Montgomery - A judge has refused to order a new trial on a record-setting $3.5 billion verdict that a jury returned against the Exxon Mobil Corp. over disputed royalty payments to Alabama.

Exxon Mobil’s next step is to try to get Montgomery Circuit Judge Tracey McCooey to slice the verdict dramatically. She said at a hearing Monday she will consider that in a few weeks.

A Montgomery Circuit Court jury decided in December that Exxon Mobil defrauded Alabama on royalties from natural gas wells drilled in the state’s coastal waters. The jury awarded the state $87.7 million in compensatory damages and $3.42 billion in punitive damages, which was the largest verdict in state history.

After the verdict, the oil company’s attorneys asked the judge to either throw out the verdict and order a new trial, or rule the punitive damages were excessive and order them cut substantially.

McCooey told attorneys Monday that she will deny the request for a new trial and that they should focus on whether the verdict was excessive. She also warned them that she wants to wrap up the case quickly.

“That isn't going to be something that drags along for years and years like the Exxon Valdez,” she said.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to free Exxon Mobil from having to pay $5 billion in damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the nation’s worst ever.

In considering whether the verdict was excessive, the judge will have to consider the economic impact on Exxon Mobil and compare the $3.5 billion verdict with the verdict in similar cases.

Attorneys on both sides expect the judge’s final ruling to be appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.

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