Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Billions at Stake: Hamm Divorce May Turn on Harold's Influence, Online Edits

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Billions at Stake: Hamm Divorce May Turn on Harold's Influence, Online Edits

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - Veteran Oklahoma family law attorneys don't expect the Harold and Sue Ann Hamm divorce to rewrite case law in a contentious legal minefield, but they are as gobsmacked as nonlawyers by the billions of dollars at stake. And some are baffled by events both in and outside of the courtroom.

The Hamms have been married about 26 years, during which time the value of the Continental Resources oil and natural gas exploration company has risen from not quite $50 million to about $25 billion.

Sue Ann Hamm, an attorney and former Continental Resources executive, filed for divorce in 2012, initially in a Doe v. Doe petition.

Special Judge Howard Haralson determined early in the trial that Harold Hamm's shares in Continental Resources, which he owned before marriage, are his separate property. It is their increase in value over the past quarter century that is the major point of dispute.

The growth in Harold Hamm's 68-percent ownership was pegged at about $17 billion in a sealed report filed by an expert for Sue Ann Hamm that has been cited in articles from several news organizations.

A new wrinkle in the case surfaced Wednesday with a report from the Reuters news agency revealing several changes in information on the Continental Resources website that seem to downplay Chairman and CEO Harold Hamm's role in the company's success. On the site the company no longer states that Continental Resources discovered the Bakken Shale field in North Dakota. References to the company initiating new methods of extraction like hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, have been deleted. Continental's move from natural gas to oil exploration is now dated from prior to the marriage.

The extent of Harold Hamm's importance in Continental Resources' growth is a substantial factor in how the profits may be carved up between the two parties.

"He's taken the position, as I understand it, that every bit of it is just dumb luck on his part, that he has stumbled into all of this stuff and he had nothing to do with any of it, and what a lucky man is he?" family law attorney Carolyn Thompson said. "I don't think anybody believes that."

According to the report, on which Continental, which trades under the stock symbol CLR, declined to comment, the revisions were determined to have been made after March 29 of this year, as information on previous versions of the site differed.

"If these changes become part of the evidence at trial, and if the court believes the revisions were done at the direction of Harold Hamm (HH) for the purpose of bolstering his/Harold's trial position, it is possible such conduct might affect the court's view of HH's credibility," Thompson said in an emailed comment. "The court might not look favorably at attempts to 'rewrite history' as set out in the public record to more closely conform with HH's trial testimony."

Part of Hamm's case is that he is not as central to Continental Resources' success as some argue.

On the other hand, Thompson said, the revisions could work to Harold Hamm's favor.

"If the court believes that the new version of the CLR story is the correct version, this will affect the determination of how much, if any, of the increase in value of CLR is marital property subject to division by the court," she said. "The more H.H. can push significant decisions and events impacting the value of CLR to before the date of marriage, the more such value becomes his separate property, to which Sue Ann has no claim."

If those decisions were made during the marriage and as a result of Harold Hamm's management and operation of the company, she said, Sue Ann Hamm would be entitled to share in the increase. …

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