The Madison County Record Mar. 11, 2015, 8:16am

It's not hard to understand why asbestos law firms fund research into asbestos-related illnesses. Aside from the obvious PR value, it's also a sound economic investment likely to generate data that can be used in court, curry favor with potential expert witnesses, and lead to client referrals.

It's essential to avoid the appearance of any quid pro quo, however, lest the more cynical among us make unsavory inferences about the validity of the research or the integrity of the researchers.

That would lessen the value to the sponsoring law firms of the researchers in question and undermine reputations in their field of expertise, which in turn would dry up other funding opportunities.

There's always somebody who's a little too greedy or a little too reckless, however. Eventually, and it's only a matter of time, that somebody goes too far or doesn't cover the tracks well enough, and the next thing you know there can be an investigation, an  indictment, and eventually, trial cross-examination.

One thing leads to another and suddenly everyone's under suspicion, even the most scrupulous and respected researchers.

It's one of those lie-down-with-dogs, get-up-with-fleas things. Even if the dogs didn't have fleas, everyone's going to assume they did and that you got them, and the minute you enter a room they're all going to start scratching.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was a dog not to lie down with, but it's too late to warn anyone now, because he's already been arrested.

Silver secretly directed state funds to the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center, whose director, Dr. Robert Taub, allegedly returned the favor by referring asbestos patients to Silver's law firm. Taub also traded quids for quos with the Simmons Law Firm in Alton, providing referrals in return for millions in “grant” money.

Now Taub's reputation may end up being tarnished and people are starting to look askance at other researchers. Fair or not, that's what happens when you lie down with dogs.

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