In the price-fixing and collusion trial of Sempra Energy, a former El Paso Corp. executive denied that utilities agreed not to bid on a proposed gas pipeline from the U.S. to Rosarito, Mexico. The Continental Forge v. Sempra trial resumed November 28 in San Diego Superior Court. \t This week, the trial focused on the slow, deliberate process of reading, and showing to the jury, depositions of 11 energy company officials taken over the year before trial. \t "It was a wide-open bidding process," according to Greg Jenkins, formerly president of El Paso Corp. \t Jenkins also testified that he did not see or hear anything in a 1996 meeting in Phoenix to suggest a conspiracy among three gas companies. \t The crux of the plaintiffs' case is the Phoenix hotel meeting during which executives from El Paso Natural Gas and Sempra subsidiaries San Diego Gas & Electric and SoCal Gas allegedly conspired to take advantage of the unregulated aspects of the natural gas and electricity markets. The jury was also shown this week the May 2004 deposition of former El Paso Corp. chair William A. Wise. Wise was asked mostly about El Paso's attempts to enter the Baja California energy market and why it officially abandoned them in 1998. "We never got throughput commitments from any party for throughput," he explained. He also explicitly stated that El Paso never reached any agreements with Sempra not to compete in specified areas. El Paso Natural Gas reached a $1.6 billion settlement with the plaintiffs in 2003. The trial, which began October 26, is overseen by San Diego Superior Court judge Ronald Prager. The plaintiffs, Compton-based aluminum manufacturer Continental Forge and the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are asking for $8 billion in damages from Sempra, the parent company of SoCal Gas and SDG&E. That amount could be tripled if punitive damages are tacked on. \t Eleven current and former executives with the companies all stated in their depositions that no collusion was involved, but attorneys for the plaintiffs are trying to prove to a panel of 12 jurors and 8 alternates'13 men and 7 women-that the 1996 hotel meeting resulted in an agreement for the three utilities to carve out territories and not to cross the various boundaries set. Others who have already testified stated 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. Twelve other plaintiffs reached out-of-court settlements last month. Sempra has acknowledged it has been trying to reach settlements with the remaining plaintiffs. If none is reached, the trial is expected to last until March. Prosecution attorney Lance Astrella said the plaintiffs hope to rest their case by Christmas.