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Oklahoma Supreme Court referee hears arguments to reopen 1989 telephone case

Consumers who contend a 1989 case involving Southwestern Bell was tainted by bribery want the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reopen the case after they filed a class-action lawsuit.
by Paul Monies Published: July 24, 2014

A referee at the Oklahoma Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether justices should allow a review of a 1989 Corporation Commission case involving Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. that passed with the vote of a bribed commissioner.

An attorney for two telephone company customers, Nichols Hills Mayor Sody Clements and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Burpee, said justices should reverse the court’s 1991 decision that forbids review of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission case.

“Southwestern Bell and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission made this utter mess, and as such, the court should require they correct it,” attorney Andrew Waldron said.

Waldron said the high court’s 1991 ruling was made before bribery allegations were made public. Former Corporation Commissioner Bob Hopkins and William Anderson, an attorney hired by Southwestern Bell, were convicted in 1995 and served time in federal prison.

The commission case — started in 1986 but not decided until 1989 — involved what Southwestern Bell should do with a $30 million windfall created a by a change in federal tax law. At issue was whether the surplus should be reinvested in company operations or refunded to consumers.

The commission voted 2-1 to adopt a settlement proposed by Southwestern Bell and the commission’s public utility division to reinvest the money in company operations. Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony, who took office in 1989, cast the dissenting vote.

Excluding Hopkins’ bribed vote, the commission’s 1989 order didn’t get a majority of the three-person commission, Waldron said.

“Fraudulently obtained judgments should never be final,” Waldron said.

Sody and Clements want the court to grant them class-action status to review the 1989 case on behalf of customers for possible refunds and interest of up to $14.3 billion.

Anthony, who worked with the FBI on the criminal cases against Hopkins and Anderson, told court referee Greg Albert the bribery scheme also included Southwestern Bell employees.

“Multiple executives and multiple attorneys for Southwestern Bell Telephone were involved in bribery or attempted bribery or other forms of criminal conduct,” Anthony said.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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