Anyone interested in an "inside baseball" account of the Alabama Supreme Court's recent ExxonMobil decision should check out Novationeering, by Alabama blogger Robby Scott Hill.
Hill is uniquely positioned to provide insight on the ExxonMobil case, where the Alabama Supreme Court threw out $3.6 billion in punitive damages against the oil giant. Hill has a law degree and he is a former state employee. In fact, he worked for the State Lands Division, where one of his duties was to administer the natural-gas leases at the heart of the ExxonMobil case.
Hill's analysis confirms what our research has been indicating--that the Alabama Supreme Court administered a colossal screw job to the people of the state.
Here is the key point in Hill's analysis: The Supreme Court violated one of the most basic foundations of appellate law, which is know as the "ore tenus presumption." Ore tenus refers to a trial based on oral testimony. "As every Alabama law student knows, a judgement based on ore tenus evidence is presumed correct and not to be disturbed on appeal 'unless a consideration of the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom reveals that the judgment is plainly and palpably erroneous or manifestly unjust," Hill writes.
The ore tenus rule is based on the notion that the jury or trial judge was present at the trial and could evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Appellate judges are not in that position, and therefore are to defer to the trial-court findings unless they were palpably wrong.
There was nothing palpably erroneous about the trial court's ruling, and we will show that in our analysis here at Legal Schnauzer. But the Supreme Court overturned a valid jury verdict anyway.
Hill cuts to the chase: "The Alabama Supreme Court did what Republicans have been complaining about for years. It engaged in judicial activism by finding its own set of facts and legislating from the bench, but nobody on the Republican side of the aisle is crying foul this time." That, of course, is because the GOP depends on funding from corporate giants like ExxonMobil, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other front groups leading the way.
And then Hill offers this classic assessment, which applies not only to ExxonMobil, but also my Legal Schnauzer case, plus the Don Siegelman and Paul Minor prosecutions: "Once again, the GOP crowd has proven that it will not live by its own rules when the interests of themselves and their benefactors are being threatened."
Hill predicts that the U.S. Supreme Court, if it grants certiorari, will overturn the ExxonMobil ruling. And he has this extremely important word of advice for Democrats: "Whatever the outcome of the State of Alabama's litigation, Democratic hopefuls for the Alabama Supreme Court should smell the blood in the water and start campaigning early for the 2008 and 2010 races because we are probably going to see quite a few new faces on our highest court."
In fact, there is evidence that GOPers already are trying to back away from the ExxonMobil ruling, which indicates the public is putting up a serious stink about it.
In a recent ruling regarding a Talladega County judgeship, there were two dissents in a ruling that favored GOP interests. Not surprisingly, one dissent was from the court's lone Democrat, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (the lone dissenting voice on ExxonMobil). And who joined Cobb in dissent? Tom Parker, the author of the ExxonMobil decision, who offered no written explanation for his dissent.
My guess? Parker is feeling serious heat over the ExxonMobil ruling, and he's probably surprised that the public even noticed--or cared. Now, I suspect, he's looking for political cover by casting a dissent in the Talladega County case.
We will examine that Talladega County ruling here at Legal Schnauzer. I suspect it will be another example of just how corrupt our state's highest court truly is.