During the past couple of months, platoon after platoon of attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, economists, biologists and Exxon Corp. officials have moved into Anchorage filling vacant office space, leasing penthouses and booking entire floors of apartment buildings and hotels. They have brought a miniboom to Anchorage as they settle in for the next few months to write the final chapter of the 1989 Exxon oil spill, the largest spill in the nation's history.
It is a trial that has been five years in the making and fills a growing 350 courthouse files, each an inch or two thick. When it's all over, 12,000 fishermen, deckhands, business owners, landowners and Natives hope a jury will award them $15 billion in punitive damages.
The plaintiffs are represented by 80-plus attorneys from all corners of the country, including San Francisco's famous palimony attorney, Melvin Belli. About 25 of those attorneys are in town, said lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Brian O'Neill.
Exxon officials won't say how many attorneys it has had working on its defense, but O'Neill said he heard that 80 oil company lawyers and paralegals are in Anchorage for the trial start.
Some Anchorage businesses saw the boom coming. Others have scrambled to accommodate it. And a manager at the Hotel Captain Cook said the bustle would have been more welcome during the dormant winter months.
"This is a boom, but it's at the wrong time of the year," said Tammy Tanner, a manager at the luxury hotel. "Everybody would have been jumping for joy if the trial would have gone on during the winter. We don't have enough rooms as it is for the summer."
Attorneys from both sides of the case have booked rooms at the Captain Cook. Exxon has reserved two floors of rooms for the summer and into September. That's about 30 rooms at roughly $150 a piece a night.
"The number will vary as they bring in different witnesses and employees," Tanner said.
Jeff Berglund, an associate broker with Jack White Co. real estate firm, said, "I started getting phone calls a couple of months ago from law offices, people trying to find domiciles for these people. . . . They wanted homes as close to downtown as possible."
What they were looking for were nice, single-family homes in the $1,500- to $2,000-a-month range with a nine-month lease, Berglund said.
Marianne Lindley at Midnight Sun Court Reporters has been planning for the trial for five years. She started adding employees three years ago.
"Even though I have organized it so tightly, I may still be pulling in temps (temporary employees) or going to outside copying places," said Lindley, whose company got the contract to record the proceedings in federal court.
In late March, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs set up shop on the second floor of an office building on 12th Avenue. They are calling their 6,000-square-foot office The Plaintiff's Trial Office. Their office furniture is folding tables and folding chairs.
O'Neill said they purposely skimped on office furniture to save money. "It isn't the nicest, but we like it," he said.
O'Neill said, "We rented a lot of houses and apartments, we have all rented cars, we have given a lot of business to local copying services. We buy sandwiches. And we hired a cook; he is an Alaska fishermen.
"We spent a lot of money at Alyeska Ski Resort last month. We have memberships at the Alaska Athletic Club, and we've hired about 25 locals."
Exxon isn't saying how much office space it has filled, how many homes it has rented or how many people it is employing.
"We feel it is inappropriate to comment on any aspect of the trial," said Dennis Stanczuk, a Exxon spokesman in Anchorage for the trial.
Some of the oil giant's attorneys are working in Resolution Tower in downtown Anchorage, where the phone is answered "Alaska Litigation Office," and others are working in a building at Ship Creek.