At 10:16 a.m., Judge Solomon Casseb Jr. replaced the gold-rimmed glasses on his nose, looked out at the attorneys crushed into his courtroom, and announced that he needed a few more days to consider the fate of Texaco Inc., the target of the largest civil damage award in history.
On Tuesday, Casseb will resume the hearing on the jury verdict in the suit by Pennzoil Co. against Texaco. Pennzoil is hoping that the $10.5 billion verdict against Texaco will be upheld in full, compensating it for the damages it claims to have suffered when Texaco wrested control of Getty Oil Co. away from Pennzoil two years ago.
Texaco, proclaiming its innocence, wants the verdict thrown out, or reduced drastically. The lawyers for the two sides spent this morning summarizing the arguments that consumed all day Thursday.
Casseb wouldn't predict today when he will rule on the conflicting motions, telling reporters that he needed more time to read the legal arguments presented to him. "I have no way of knowing what I'll do."
Joseph D. Jamail Jr., Pennzoil's lead attorney, who calls Casseb his friend, predicts the judge will rule on Tuesday.
The outcome of this gigantic case rests on the broad shoulders of a 70-year-old retired state judge, who heads a small law firm in his hometown of San Antonio. "I try to keep it going for my two sons," he told a reporter. One is in the firm. A second son is a district attorney and Casseb hopes he will join the firm, too. A third son is married to a lawyer.
Casseb spends most of his time away from the firm, however, hearing negligence, personal injury and other civil cases inside a small, plain Houston courtroom.
Casseb was graduated from St. Mary's University in Texas and the University of Texas law school, and served as a state court judge from 1960 to 1969. In 1964, he was appointed presiding judge of the 4th Administration Judicial District of Texas, a tribute, lawyers say, to his reputation as a jurist.
Casseb, who served as a combat intelligence officer in the Pacific during World War II, is now a grandfather of three. He has a craggy face that from some angles suggests a resemblence to the actor Anthony Quinn and is a dapper dresser -- the tops of gray leather wing-tipped shoes showed beneath his judicial robes.
He entered the Texaco-Pennzoil case halfway through the four-month-long trial this fall when the original judge became ill.
It is his rulings at the end of the trial, instructing the jury on how it should consider the evidence it had heard, that has thrust him into the pivotal role in the case.
Texaco's case, argued principally by New York attorney David Boies, is that Casseb erred in his instructions to the jury regarding the critical issues of the case: One was whether Pennzoil and Getty Oil Co. had reached a binding agreement before Texaco took Getty away with a higher bid two years ago; another was the basis on which the jury should consider damages to be awarded to Pennzoil if they found in Pennzoil's favor.
Boies and his colleagues introduced a 138-page brief Thursday filled with citations of cases in New York state law relating to the issue of the agreement between Pennzoil and Getty and the conditions they said would have to be met for it to have been a binding, final deal. (New York law governs the agreement issue, because it was negotiated in that state). Boies said those conditions had not been met and the judge's instructions should have made that plain to the jury.
Now it is up to Casseb. "He'll take it in stride," predicted Audrey McGlothing, the receptionist at his firm, Casseb, Strong and Pearl.