PHILADELPHIA – Asbestos lawyers who for decades piled claims by the millions on businesses are howling in protest now that the tables have turned.
Seeking to stop a flood of motions to dismiss their suits, they claim that a "dysfunctional database" has churned out false allegations against their clients.
The allegations have made lawyers find their clients and take sworn statements, according to Jeffrey Varas of Hazelhurst, Miss.
"Plaintiffs have been forced to file unnecessarily thousands of affidavits to rebut and refute the baseless and false allegations of certain defendants," Varas wrote to U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno of Philadelphia on July 6.
"The civil judicial system fails when violations of the rules of court go unaddressed," Varas wrote.
"The rules of the court have failed in the instant action," he wrote.
He asked Robreno to strike a mass of motions to dismiss and prayed for an award of attorney's fees, court costs, expenses and travel reimbursement.
Robreno presides over asbestos suits from around the nation by appointment of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.
Last year he ordered each plaintiff suing more than one defendant to sever the suit and state a specific claim against each defendant.
The order turned tens of thousands of suits into more than three million.
Defendants moved for a blanket order dismissing every plaintiff who didn't sever a suit, but Robreno asked for separate motions.
Asbestos lawyers quickly abandoned or settled claims, and Robreno reported earlier this year that about 500,000 claims had been
resolved in four months.
As momentum built for defendants, General Electric lawyer Marcy Croft of Jackson, Miss., offered a compromise to accelerate the process.
On June 30 Croft submitted more than 10,000 names and asked Robreno to dismiss them with a stroke of a pen, relieving her of the task of filing separate motions.
Robreno hasn't responded to her request.
While defendants relish the idea of winning thousands of cases at a time instead of losing thousands at a time, Varas protests.
"Defendants are asking the court to dismiss on the basis of misleading/false information in a nefarious attempt to shift the burden of proof to the plaintiffs," he wrote.
"Certain defendants are treading falsely upon the rights of the very victims these certain defendants poisoned in the long and well documented asbestos conspiracy," he wrote.
He wrote that defendants "have exploited every method at their disposal to prevent or retard consideration of these cases on the merits, which suggests strongly the presence of precisely that which the defendants do not want considered.
"The judicial system is no doubt imperfect and in some respects fragile, but for certain defendants to set off a series of events involving thousands of cases based totally on a false and fraudulent allegation is an outrageous abuse of process and is fundamentally just plain wrong."