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State court to hear arguments on record Exxon Mobil verdict

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court will hear arguments next month on the largest verdict in Alabama history, a $3.6 billion judgment against Exxon Mobil that has been awaiting action by the justices for 11/2 years.

The court released a schedule Thursday that sets the case for arguments on Feb. 6. The case, which involves 29 attorneys, was scheduled for two hours of arguments, which is longer than cases normally get.

In 1999, the state Conservation Department sued Exxon Mobil, accusing it of underpaying royalties to the state for natural gas wells drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast.

The first trial in the case ended with the Alabama Supreme Court overturning the verdict and ordering a retrial. At the retrial in November 2003, a Montgomery jury awarded the state $11.9 billion — the largest verdict issued by any American jury that year.

In March 2004, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey cut the amount to $3.6 billion.

Even at that amount, it still set a state record and topped any other verdict from an American jury in 2003.

Exxon Mobil appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, calling the verdict "unjustified and excessive."

The two sides filed their last appeals briefs in August 2005, and the court had taken no action in the case until scheduling the arguments.

In recent months, former state Conservation Commissioner Jim Martin, who ordered the audit of Exxon Mobil's payments that led to the state's suit, had complained publicly about the court's slow pace in handling the case.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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