OKLAHOMA CITY - During the divorce trial of oil baron Harold Hamm and wife Sue Ann, an unusual relationship took shape in the Oklahoma courtroom as the marriage was being dismantled.
From the bench, Special Judge Howard Haralson playfully tossed red and white peppermints to a lawyer sitting alone in the jury box who didn't represent either of the Hamms in the case.
The man, Eric Eissenstat, serves as general counsel, senior vice president, secretary and chief risk officer for Continental Resources, the publicly traded oil company founded and run by Harold. And during a trial that could result in one of the largest divorce judgments in US history, Eissenstat emerged as one of the most important people in the courtroom.
For all but a few hours of testimony in the nine-week trial, the proceedings were closed to the public and to the media - a practice atypical in divorce cases that don't involve child custody disputes. But interviews with a half-dozen people who were present in the courtroom, and with others familiar with the case, indicate that Eissenstat played an extraordinary role throughout the trial.
It was Eissenstat, the company's top lawyer, who advocated successfully for the trial to be closed to the public, contending that discussion of Continental's confidential business information warranted secrecy. Judge Haralson agreed, saying on the first day of trial that he wished to keep "a divorce trial from destroying" Continental, one of America's most successful oil companies. Although about 95 per cent of the trial was closed, Eissenstat was allowed to stay and to participate.
Eissenstat also attended pre-trial hearings, court filings show, and visited frequently with Harold Hamm's personal divorce attorneys, according to people familiar with the case.
After the trial began, Eissenstat's role in the case grew. Haralson allowed Eissenstat to interject during the proceedings, to approach the bench, and to attend meetings with the spouses' lawyers in chambers, according to court filings and interviews with others in the courtroom.