A federal judge wants to see the new evidence Exxon has to support its argument that it should get a new oil-spill trial because a courthouse security officer tampered with the jury that returned the record $5 billion verdict against the company four years ago.
In a four-page order issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland said he will look at a U.S. Marshal's investigative report of the incident before deciding whether to grant Exxon's request.
Exxon attorneys did not know about that report two years ago when the jury-tampering allegations first arose. Holland ruled at that time that there wasn't sufficient evidence to determine whether the tampering took place.
Attorneys representing commercial fishermen, Natives and others who won the lawsuit against the oil giant in 1994 oppose the motion for a new trial and Exxon's motion to present the newly discovered evidence. They argued the new evidence does not change anything.
''That may or may not be true,'' Holland wrote. ''Right now, no one but the Marshal's Service has the facts.''
The new-trial motion is one in a series that seek to overturn or reduce the record verdict returned in the fall of 1994 against Exxon after the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. Exxon also has an appeal pending with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in San Franciso. Legal procedures require the request for a new trial to be decided by the local federal court.
Exxon filed the motion for a new trial last fall after the company was contacted by an attorney working on an unrelated case that dealt with the same security guard, Don Warrick, who allegedly had inappropriate contact with one or more jurors.
The attorney told Exxon that Warrick took a seven-hour lie detector test and admitted to U.S. Marshal Service investigators that he previously had lied in court and had contact with jurors that might be inappropriate. Warrick was forced to resign from his position in December 1995. He died four months later of a heart attack.
Warrick first became an issue in June 1995 after Exxon filed a motion for a mistrial and asked the court to subpoena jurors for questioning about whether there were any incidents of jury intimidation during the four-month trial.
One juror, Doug Graham, told the court that Warrick stopped him one morning and asked him if the jury was still having problems with one particular juror. Then Warrick ''pulled his gun out, took a bullet out and said maybe if you put her out of her misery or something,'' Graham told the court.
Warrick was subpoenaed and said under oath he was outraged by the allegation.
''It was not me,'' Warrick told the court. ''I have never heard anything so absurd in my life.''