Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 120
04/11/2005 01:00 PM JUDICIARY
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HJR 9 - URGE CONGRESS HONOR EXXON VALDEZ JUDGMENT 2:00:27 PM CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 9, Urging the United States Congress to honor the process and judgment of the federal courts in the case of the Exxon Valdez disaster and to refrain from enacting legislation that would affect the outcome of the courts' resolution of the case. 2:00:36 PM SUZANNE HANCOCK, Staff to Representative Gabrielle LeDoux, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor, presented HJR 9 on behalf of Representative LeDoux. She explained: This resolution from the Alaska State Legislature would urge the United States Congress to respect the judicial process and refrain from enacting any legislation that would alter the punitive damages awarded to more than 32,000 plaintiffs as a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, as finally determined by the federal courts. Nearly 15 years after the disaster and more than 10 years after the original jury verdict, the plaintiffs are still waiting resolution of the lawsuit. While the United States Congress considered the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, ExxonMobil Corporation sought an amendment that would have substantially reduced the punitive damages that would have been paid for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. This resolution urges Congress only to let the courts determine this matter. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG offered his understanding that constitutionally, after a final judgment, there could be no retroactive changes. He questioned whether the committee ought to get a legal opinion in case another section should be added to HJR 9 to address this issue. 2:03:01 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARA replied: [ExxonMobil Corporation] is on appeal to try and get rid of the punitive damage verdict, get it set up for retrial or rehearing by the court. Once the final judgment disappears, then they feel that they'll be free to get Congress to write the law in a way that will prevent the fishermen from getting the same judgment as they got the last time. ... I don't know if what they're doing is legal or constitutional, but that's how they address your point. They're trying to vacate the final judgment. 2:03:56 PM REPRESENTATIVE GARA commented that he thought the resolution should also ask the governor to make a demand upon ExxonMobil Corporation. He asked that this idea be relayed to Representative LeDoux. 2:05:01 PM JERRY McCUNE, Lobbyist for United Fishermen of Alaska; President, Cordova District Fishermen United, testified in support of HJR 9. He commented that the governor has already called for all parties to settle this case. He said, "All we're asking is for the ... courts [to] rule on this - win, lose, or draw." REPRESENTATIVE GARA confirmed that the governor has called on all parties to settle the case. He explained that he thought the governor should call on ExxonMobil Corporation to pay. 2:06:53 PM MATTHEW D. JAMIN, Attorney at Law, Jamin, Ebell, Schmitt & Mason, stated that he is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation. He said: On behalf of plaintiffs' counsel, we do support the resolution and we think it is a very sensible resolution at this time. The suggestions thus far have been that there might be something deliberate that would affect the case, and certainly that's a possibility. But we are equally concerned that there might be something - given the attempts made in the federal legislature to change class action legislation, to change tort legislation, what's called tort reform - ... that is not deliberate. And we think that the legislators' proposed resolution brings to everyone's attention the need to be wary as legislation is passed on the federal side so that it does not affect this case. CHAIR McGUIRE, after ascertaining that no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on HJR 9. 2:08:13 PM REPRESENTATIVE COGHILL moved to report HJR 9 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HJR 9 was reported from the House Judiciary Standing Committee.