CHICAGO – The entire catalog of evidence that led to a judge's landmark ruling and scathing judgment of asbestos plaintiffs attorneys in the Garlock Sealing Technologies bankruptcy now can be accessed online at Legal Newsline’s website.
Legal Newsline is an associate publication of the Madison-St. Clair Record.
In October, a federal judge ruled in favor of Legal Newsline and ordered the record to be disclosed to the public.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, ordered all documents pertaining to the Garlock bankruptcy proceeding to be unsealed and made available, effectively denying every motion to seal that had been filed by asbestos plaintiffs lawyers and Garlock.
The documents at issue include evidence submitted by Garlock that allegedly showed a pervasive pattern of misrepresentation and suppression of evidence on the part of asbestos plaintiffs and their attorneys.
On Jan. 10, 2014, Hodges ruled in favor of Garlock, ordering the gasket manufacturer to put $125 million in its bankruptcy trust, which is more than $1 billion less than what plaintiffs’ attorneys requested as Garlock’s liability.
Hodges found that the amount of previous awards and settlements paid by the company in the civil justice system were not reliable indicators of future liabilities because plaintiffs attorneys had withheld evidence of their clients’ exposure to asbestos-containing products manufactured by other companies in order to maximize recovery against Garlock.
The judge rejected the argument that the amount of settlements reached by asbestos claimants should be sealed, holding that the awards were an important part of the decision in the estimation proceeding and the public had a strong interest in the information.
Furthermore, Hodges rejected the plaintiffs firms’ arguments that adult plaintiffs should maintain confidentiality over their full names. He concluded that if the claimants chose to file a public lawsuit, then their names are not a private matter.
Hodges’ ruling came after U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr.’s ruling last July in favor of Legal Newsline and other proponents of public access. He concluded that evidence alleging fraud on the part of asbestos attorneys should not have been sealed.
Cogburn, a President Barack Obama-appointee who took the bench in 2011, ruled that sealing documents and witness testimony is the exception, not the rule, to handling confidential information.
Cogburn’s order came after a hearing addressed consolidated appeals from Legal Newsline, solvent asbestos defendants and other interested parties.
Legal Newsline’s first appeal came prior to the Garlock estimation trial on July 31, 2013, in response to Hodges’ decision to close portions of the trial and documents associated with it. It then filed an additional appeal seeking access to the evidence and sealed trial transcripts that led to the January 2014 decision.
After Hodges’ ruling, several interested parties filed similar motions requesting access to sealed Rule 2019 filings.
Included in the Garlock files that can be accessed on Legal Newsline are the depositions of many of the plaintiffs’ attorneys whose firms Garlock eventually sued for racketeering, including Ben Shein, Peter Kraus and Joe Belluck.