- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

From combined dispatches

The Supreme Court refused to free Exxon Mobil Corp. from having to pay $5 billion in damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the nation's worst ever.
The nation's highest court, acting without comment yesterday, let stand the award stemming from the tanker spill that polluted more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, killed tens of thousands of birds and marine mammals and disrupted fishing.
The oil company still has a variety of other appeals pending, and the high court action does not obligate the company to pay anything right away, said company spokesman Tom Cirigliano.
In this appeal, attorneys for Exxon Mobil had urged the justices to throw out the punitive-damages award on grounds of irregularities during jury deliberations.
"We're not even close," to the end of the case, Mr. Cirigliano said. "This doesn't have any effect whatsoever on us having to pay the $5 billion."
The Exxon order was one of several business-related decisions released by the high court on the first day of its new term. Among the highlights:
Circuit City Group fought off a legal bid to force the second-largest U.S. consumer-electronics retailer to overhaul its personnel procedures to prevent racial discrimination.
The court refused to reinstate a court order that would have required Circuit City to set up a "department of diversity management" and submit to oversight by the plaintiffs' lawyers and a federal judge.
The court refused to throw out a lawsuit in which actors George Wendt and John Ratzenberger, who played endearing barflies in the "Cheers" television show, say two robots stole their old act.
The court refused to block the marketing of a generic chewing gum to help smokers give up cigarettes, rejecting an appeal in which the manufacturer of Nicorette gum said the marketing violated its copyright.
The court refused to revive a lawsuit against Sterling, Va.-based America Online by subscribers who accused the Internet company of imposing unjust charges and failing to protect customer privacy. The court turned down the subscribers' argument that AOL should be considered a "common carrier" that can be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
In another case involving AOL, the court refused to revive an environmental challenge to the 2.78-million-square-foot New York City development that includes the future home for a combined AOL and Time Warner Inc.
The high court refused to reinstate the California fraud convictions of financier Charles Keating, who became a symbol of the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s.
The court, skirting a trademark dispute growing out of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, refused to stop Bacardi & Co. from selling Bahamian-produced "Havana Club" rum in the United States. The justices, acting without comment, rejected an appeal in which a Cuban rum manufacturer, Havana Club Holding, argued that Bacardi is violating U.S. and international trademark law.
The court let a company continue selling computer software that allows people to run Sony PlayStation games on personal computers. The justices ruled that Connectix can sell the software until a lower court rules on Sony's claim of unfair competition.
In one of several challenges to the $5 billion award imposed by a federal jury in 1994, Exxon Mobil attacked the behavior of Don Warrick, a court bailiff who escorted the jury and served food to its members during five months of trial and deliberations in Anchorage, Alaska.
Mr. Warrick admitted that in a conversation with one of the Exxon Valdez trial jurors he pulled out his gun and removed one of its bullets before saying another juror one holding out against making a punitive-damages award should be put "out of her misery."
Mr. Warrick, who said he was only joking, was fired. He died in 1996.
But U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland refused to order a new punitive-damages trial, ruling that the holdout juror had not known during the deliberations about Mr. Warrick's comment.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his ruling last March, calling the bailiff's comment to a juror "a strikingly tasteless joke" that targeted a juror who had been conspicuously emotional. But it said the comment did not require "a rebuttable presumption of prejudice" because it was not aimed at the holdout juror.
In the appeal acted on yesterday, Exxon Mobil's attorneys argued that such a presumption should exist.
The Exxon Valdez hit a charted reef in Prince William Sound in March 1989 and spilled 11 million gallons of Alaska crude oil.

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