The Alabama Supreme Court refused a last-minute request by Exxon Mobil to stop jury selection Wednesday for the retrial of the state’s record-setting lawsuit against the oil company.
Exxon Mobil’s attorneys contended the pool of potential jurors had been tainted by hundreds of letters that one of the state’s attorneys, former Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, sent to hundreds of people asking if they knew anything about any of the potential jurors.
The Supreme Court, in a brief decision Wednesday morning, rejected Exxon Mobil’s request and jury selection began at the Montgomery County Courthouse. Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday, with Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey expecting trial to last two to three weeks.
In December 2000, a Montgomery jury ruled Exxon Mobil had cheated the stat out of royalties from natural gas wells drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast. The jury ordered the oil company to pay the state $3.5 billion, which was six times larger than the state’s previous record for a jury verdict.
With jury selection scheduled to start Wednesday morning, Exxon Mobil’s attorneys turned to the Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon with a request to stop the proceedings and get a new group of potential jurors to handle the case.
The oil company’s attorneys argued its right to a fair trial was violated when Beasley sent the list of potential jurors to hundreds of lawyers and others and asked them for any information they might have. Exxon Mobil attorney Sam Franklin said Beasley’s letters didn’t caution the recipients to refrain from contacting any of the people on the list.
The letters went to many of the 1,333 people on a mailings list maintained by Beasley, but he said during a hearing last week that he could not say exactly who received them because those records had been shredded.
“We do shred things because people check our garbage occasionally,” Beasley told the judge.
Beasley said there was nothing unusual about his law firm seeking information about potential jurors for use in selecting 12 people to hear the case.
Excerpt from Beasley letter
Excerpt from a letter that Jere Beasley, an attorney representing the state, sent to hundreds of people seeking information about potential jurors in the retrial of the state’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil:
“I would appreciate it very much if you would look over the enclosed list of potential jurors for me. We need to develop as much information as we can concerning each of the named individuals. If you could take some time to go over the list and give me any information you may have, it will be most helpful. We want to know how these folks will respond to a very strong case of fraudulent conduct that has already cost the state a great deal of royalty money.”