Jurors in Utility Case Treated to Tour of Nuclear Power Plant
HOUSTON (AP) _ Jurors who heard a long court battle between Houston Power & Lighting and the city of Austin have been invited on an expense-paid trip to see the nuclear power plant that was the focus of last summer’s trial.
The jury had ruled that the utility didn’t have to pay the city damages.
Some Austin officials questioned the plan’s propriety.
The utility confirmed that about a month ago it had invited the Dallas jurors and retired appellate court Judge Clarence Guittard, who presided over the four-month trial, to visit the South Texas Nuclear Project plant at HL&P expense, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.
″This is a bunch of people who spent an inordinate amount of time studying the plant and never got a chance to see it,″ said HL&P spokesman Graham Painter.
The jurors decided in July that although HL&P denied information to one of its partners in the STNP - the city of Austin - Austin deserved no damage payments. Austin had sought $419 million and is appealing the jury’s decision. The trial was held in Dallas after a judge decided a fair trial could not be held in Austin.
Painter said the company decided that jurors should stay overnight in Houston because of the time it takes to get from Dallas to the plant site at Bay City, 90 miles southwest of Houston.
He said HL&P has reserved 19 rooms in the Westin Oaks at the Galleria, where single rooms run $150 a night during the week and half that on weekends.
″We’re awfully proud of our plant, and we’d like to show it off,″ Painter said. Besides, he said, ″They are the only people in Texas who are certain never to serve on an STP jury again, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on a plant tour.″
Juror Kathy LaMarr agreed: ″I want to see what it was we were talking about all that time.″
But some Austin officials are outraged.
″It’s highly unprofessional and very questionable. Until the people of Texas realize that this sort of shenanigans cost the people hundreds of millions of dollars, it won’t stop,″ said Austin City Councilman George Humphrey.
″When you have a jury that rules the defendant is guilty and awards no damages and a short time later, they’re offered free air fare, free lodging, free meals and first-class treatment, it can’t help but cast a doubt,″ Humphrey said.
″I’ve never heard of this happening in civil litigation. I think it’s fundamentally unethical, but so what else is new?″ said Councilman Smoot Carl-Mitchell.
Austin claimed in the trial that HL&P withheld information from its partners that would have lead the city to move to cancel construction of the plant before its cost ballooned from $900 million to almost $6 billion, not counting interest costs on construction that lasted 17 years.
During the trial, specialists in engineering, accounting and law were called on and jurors were shown a million-dollar scale model of the nuclear power plant.