The collusion and price-gouging trial of Sempra Energy and two of its subsidiaries continued into its third week in San Diego, with energy executives testifying that a 1996 meeting between utilities at an Arizona hotel did not result in the birth of a conspiracy. \t Steven Miller, who attended the Phoenix meeting as SoCal Gas's director of business strategies, testified November 7 that the meeting?s main purpose was for SoCal Gas to persuade El Paso not to expand its pipeline for a project in Mexico but instead to use SoCal Gas?s excess capacity. \t The trial, overseen by Superior Court judge Ronald Prager, revolves around the Phoenix hotel meeting, at which executives from Sempra companies San Diego Gas & Electric and SoCal Gas, along with representatives from El Paso Natural Gas Co., allegedly conspired to take advantage of the unregulated aspects of the natural gas and electricity markets. \t Sempra didn't yet exist at the time of the meeting, but the parent companies of SoCal Gas and SDG&E were getting closer to merging. Sempra was created after a 1998 merger. \t Among those who have testified is Sempra Energy CEO Stephen Baum, who in several hours of testimony last week told the jury that he didn't know his colleagues met at the Phoenix hotel until the lawsuit filed four years later charged that it laid the groundwork for the scheme. \t Baum, who retires in January, also testified that a spike in natural gas prices had minimal effect on the state's 2000 energy crisis. All 11 executives have claimed in pretrial depositions that no collusion was involved. The plaintiffs, including Compton-based aluminum manufacturer Continental Forge and the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are asking for $8 billion in damages, an amount that could be tripled to roughly $24 billion if punitive damages are tacked on. Twelve other plaintiffs reached out-of-court settlements two weeks ago. Sempra spokesperson Stephanie Donovan confirmed that settlement talks are ongoing with the remaining plaintiffs but would not give specifics on possible payment amounts. El Paso reached a $1.6 billion settlement with the plaintiffs in 2003.