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Pelz law firm wins huge judgment against Anadarko

A Denver law firm has won a nearly $50 million judgment against oil and gas giant Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in a federal trial that revolved around the company's subsidiaries not returning information about thousands of miles of seismic data to the owners.

The trial took place last September. In mid-February, Anadarko (NYSE: APC) filed a $53 million bond with the federal Denver District Court to cover the judgment and costs, and said it planned to appeal the jury's decision.

"It's a large judgment," said John Sadwith, executive director of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. "It's very rare in Colorado to have judgments for more than $1 million, even in federal district court."

The case pitted two oil and gas companies against each other.

M.D. Mark Inc., based in Houston, has thousands of miles of seismic data -- information about the lay of the land thousands of feet underground that oil and gas companies use to hunt for oil and natural gas. Companies that create the information, done by setting off charges underground and measuring the vibrations as they bounce to the surface, consider the data proprietary, and lease it out under detailed contracts.

M.D. Mark leased about 16,000 miles of it to Dallas-based Oryx Energy Co. several years ago.

When Kerr-McGee Corp., based in Oklahoma City, bought Oryx in February 1999, M.D. Mark asked Kerr-McGee to return the data.

Kerr-McGee didn't, launching the 2001 case. Harlan Pelz of Denver's Pelz, Bonifazi & Inderwish P.C. represented M.D. Mark. Anadarko bought Kerr-McGee in 2006.

"It's a nice victory," Pelz said. "My client has been beat down by Kerr-McGee for years and years. It cost a lot of money, but Kerr-McGee got what they were entitled to. They're appealing, I expect that. But I don't expect that they'll win on appeal."

Federal District Judge John Kane awarded $25.3 million in damages, plus interest back to 1999 -- which almost doubled the damages to $49 million, Pelz said.

"We respect and appreciate the jury's time and consideration of the case," said Paula Beasley, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Anadarko. "We respectfully disagree with its decision and intend to vigorously pursue an appeal. The plaintiff won similar cases in Texas and neither was successful beyond the appellate process."


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