There has been a great deal said and written about the Alabama Supreme Court’s handling of the State’s case against Exxon. The contacts our office has received from persons all over Alabama makes me realize that folks are concerned. A recent editorial appeared in the Montgomery Independent dealing with the court’s ruling in favor of Exxon. I am setting it out below:
December 13, 2007 – THE ALABAMA SUPREME COURT VS. THE TAXPAYERS
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. The 7th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
Governor Riley has correctly decided that there is no valid reason to ask the State Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to side with ExxonMobil and against the people of Alabama. After all, the state’s highest tribunal has nullified the decisions of two competent Montgomery juries and a competent circuit court judge to satisfy the wants and needs of the giant multi-national corporations that are working by the minute to chip away at the 7th Amendment guarantee of a jury trial in civil cases. Our high court, with the exception of Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, winked at fraud in the highest degree to side with the wealthiest corporation in the world. One has to wonder what would happen if the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Mobile Bay as it did in Alaska’s Prince William Sound 18 years ago. Aside from the wildlife kill, the spill damaged 1,300 miles of coastland, closed the 1989 fishing season in the region, reduced harvests in later years, and caused fish prices to drop.
Would the Alabama Supreme Court justices look the other way again and cost the taxpayers another $3 billion? My guess is, with the same composition as the current court that would be the case. ExxonMobil is still appealing a judgment in the Valdez spill, a fight that began in 1994 after a jury assessed $5 billion in punishment against Exxon, later reduced by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to $2.5 billion. This is another reason Riley is probably right in his decision. Let’s at least keep the $70 or $80 million in actual damages the state will recover instead of spending them on the cost of what appears to be a useless appeal. The people, the small and medium sized businesses and government must become more keenly aware of the effort being made by the multi-nationals, many of them with significant foreign ownership, to subvert the protections of the 7th Amendment. Their objective is to first keep us out of court, and if they can’t do that, to keep us from being adequately compensated for their wrongdoing. If you don’t believe me, call my friend Jim Martin (no kin), the former GOP congressman, an oil man himself, and Governor Guy Hunt’s Conservation chief who took on ExxonMobil after the company’s fraud in state oil leases was discovered.
This editorial is pretty much in line with the views of a majority of Alabama citizens. When you consider that the lawsuit was originally filed at the direction of then-Attorney General Bill Pryor and supported fully by his successor, Troy King, it becomes clear that this wasn’t a lawsuit without merit. Had it been, it wouldn’t have taken the justices almost four years to decide it. Governor Bob Riley felt strongly about the state’s fraud case, as did his experienced legal advisor Ken Wallis. The governor fully supported the state’s position before the Supreme Court. I believe the court made a mistake, but what I think really carries little weight. As I stated last month, the real losers are the Alabama taxpayers.