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Thursday, November 9, 2000

Chevron says
state violated
court order

The company asks
for stiff sanctions

By Rob Perez

Claiming the state was flaunting a court order, Chevron Corp. has asked a federal judge to approve sanctions that would undermine a major allegation in the state's $2 billion gasoline price-fixing lawsuit.

Chevron Corp. Robert Mittelstaedt, a San Francisco attorney representing Chevron, yesterday accused the state of violating a judge's order to turn over certain information about the case to the company. He asked the court to impose stiff sanctions because of the alleged violation.

Among the requested sanctions was that the state be barred from offering any evidence on the allegation that Hawaii oil companies fraudulently concealed information to hinder gas-price investigations.

If the judge prevents the state from pursuing that charge, it would be a key setback and would cut the damages the state can seek at trial.

But it wasn't clear what Magistrate Francis Yamashita decided. He kicked out a Star-Bulletin reporter from yesterday's court hearing right before the state was to respond to Chevron's allegations and before the judge issued a ruling from the bench.

His office later said no information would be released about the hearing. Yamashita's written ruling presumably will be available to the public when completed and placed in the case file, a process that can take days.

Spencer Hosie, the state's lead attorney on the antitrust case, could not be reached for comment. But another attorney representing the state said they could not discuss what was said at the hearing because the matter was under seal.

Yesterday's hearing was supposed to be closed to the public, but there was no indication of that when a Star-Bulletin reporter entered the courtroom shortly after the proceedings started. In a closed hearing, the door typically is locked, limiting access to the room.

After Chevron presented its case and after a short recess, Mittelstaedt noted the presence of a reporter and asked Yamashita to close the remainder of the hearing -- a request that was granted.

No objection was raised earlier, however, when another Chevron attorney saw the Star-Bulletin reporter right after he entered the courtroom.

The reporter remained in the courtroom for about an hour while Chevron presented its arguments. But because of Yamashita's ruling he was prevented from hearing the state's side.

Mittelstaedt told Yamashita that Chevron has tried for 18 months to get some basic information on when and how the state discovered information giving rise to the fraudulent concealment allegation.

But the state has not provided information as required by the court and in some cases turned over documents that omitted or altered details that would have hurt the state's case, Mittelstaedt said.

Chevron has repeatedly denied the concealment charge. It says documents the state claims were concealed were given to state investigators a decade ago.

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