High Court Action: Day 1

Exxon Mobil Loses Appeal Fla. Prayer Ruling Set Aside ‘Norm’ and ‘Cliff’ Can Sue Boy Loses Suspension Fight Court: Law Exempts Bisexual Harassers

Court Lets Valdez Award Stand

The Supreme Court today 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 high court, acting without comment, 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 Exxon order was among dozens released by the court on the first day of its new term.

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil had urged the justices to throw out the punitive-damages award on grounds of irregularities during jury deliberations.

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.

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.”

Warrick, who said he was only joking, was fired. He died in 1996.

The Exxon Valdez hit a charted reef in Prince William Sound in March 1989 and spilled 11 million gallons of Alaska crude oil.

School Prayer Ruling Set Aside

The court also set aside a ruling that let public school students in a Florida county choose a class member to give a prayer or other message at high school graduations.

The justices today ordered a federal appeals court to restudy the case in light of their decision last June to bar student-led prayers at public high school football games. The justices said such prayers violated the constitutionally required separation of government and religion.

In 1992, the justices prohibited clergy-led prayers at public school graduations.

Invocations and benedictions were allowed at Duval County, Fla., public school graduations before the 1992 ruling.

In 1993, school officials adopted a new policy letting high school seniors decide whether to choose a fellow student to give a “brief opening and/or closing message” at graduation. The student would decide the message’s content with no review by school officials.

A group of students and their parents sued in 1998, saying the policy amounted to a government establishment of religion, barred by the Constitution’s First Amendment. A federal judge upheld the policy. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, but the full appeals court ruled for the school district last March.

Cheers Case Moves Ahead

In other action, the court let “Norm” and “Cliff” continue with their lawsuit against the studio that produced the television show Cheers.

Without comment, the court today rejected an appeal from Paramount Pictures and Host International.

Actors George Wendt and John Ratzenberger filed suit after the studio granted Host a license to set up Cheers bars in airports around the world.

Some of the bars feature two life-size, robotic customers named “Hank” and “Bob.” One of the robots is heavy; the other wears a Postal Service uniform.

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