What is it with these guys? As if dumping 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound isn't bad enough, the corporate polluters at Exxon seem to think shady kickbacks are just part of doing business. Well, yeah, of course they are, but you don't have to be so blatantly stupid about it. The following was excerpted from a Page One story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 14, 1996. Something to think about next time you pull up to the pump. Or pick up a can of Alaska salmon.
A federal judge has rebuked Exxon Corp. and seven Seattle-based fish processors for secretly agreeing that the processors would seek, then return to Exxon, almost $750 million of the damages that the oil company was ordered to pay for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. U.S. District Judge Russell Holland of Anchorage, Alaska, called the agreements "pernicious and flagrant violations of public policy," and said they amounted to "an astonishing ruse."
He wrote that Exxon and the processors "misled the plaintiffs, the court and most egregiously, the jury," in the oil-spill damage litigation. Brian O'Neill, chief trial attorney for Alaskan natives, fishermen and landowners, said the arrangement amounted to "a kickback agreement" between the oil company and the processors.
In his ruling late Tuesday, Judge Holland barred the processors, and therefore Exxon itself, from the share they sought in a $5 billion punitive damage suit against Exxon. Holland raised questions about the candor of Exxon's chairman, Lee Raymond, and wrote that "more than one" of the attorneys representing Exxon and the processors probably violated the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct regarding candor in a lawsuit.
The judge's blistering statements came in a ruling this week involving one of the last major issues to be resolved before a final judgement is made in the $5 billion award. His ruling bars Exxon and the fish processors, known in the case as the Seattle Seven, from getting any of the $5 billion. The Seattle companies, which number more than seven, are:
Judge Holland said he was "shocked and disappointed that Exxon entered into such a repugnant agreement with the Seattle Seven. The jury determined that $5 billion, and not a penny less, was the amount reasonably necessary to punish and deter Exxon. Public policy will not allow Exxon to use a secret deal to undercut the jury system, the court's numerous orders upholding the verdict, and society's goal in punishing Exxon's recklessness."
"What does that tell you about Exxon and its corporate culture?" asked plaintiffs' chief trial lawyer O'Neill. "It tell us that it is a sick culture."