CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Legal Newsline) — Attorneys for Legal Newsline filed a motion Tuesday to keep the bankruptcy trial of Garlock Sealing Technologies open to the public following a judge’s decision to close off portions of a law professor’s testimony last week.
Judge George Hodges excluded members of the media and public from testimony given by Lester Brickman, a professor of law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. Brickman, an expert witness retained by Garlock, was testifying about trust provisions meant to protect confidentiality that he says allowed for rampant claimant abuse and fraud in asbestos settlement cases.
The bankruptcy trial, which began last week at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina and is expected to last three weeks, will determine the estimated liability of the company for current and future asbestos claims.
Legal Newsline’s attorneys are challenging Hodges’ decision under a First Amendment claim. In the motion, the attorneys are requesting that the rest of the remaining trial stay open to the public and that transcripts of the closed portion be made available as well.
Brickman had been testifying during the open portion of his testimony about certain confidentiality provisions enacted for trusts established to pay claimants who came into contact with asbestos. The provisions caused significant transparency issues preventing Garlock from cost-effectively ferretting out bogus claims. Brickman authored a report on fraudulent asbestos claims and has testified before Congress on the issue.
Hodges previously denied a Garlock motion to remove confidentiality designations from evidence relating to the trust claims as well as Garlock’s request to keep Brickman’s entire testimony open to the public. Last Friday, Hodges closed the courtroom after a brief recess.
A Legal Newsline reporter present at the trial objected to the closure requesting that the judge delay Brickman’s testimony until after the company’s lawyers had a chance to argue for full media and public access to all of Brickman’s testimony. Hodges overruled the request closing the courtroom for the rest of Brickman’s testimony, which continued on for about three more hours.
Following Brickman’s testimony, the judge reopened the courtroom to the public and media.
The judge is expected to rule on the motion Wednesday.
Meanwhile the trial continued Tuesday with attorneys representing the claimants calling more expert witnesses to testify. Arnold Brody, a doctor in cellular biology specializing in lung diseases and asbestos, testified about studies he says show chrysotile asbestos fibers to be toxic to humans and animals.
Last week, experts for Garlock testified that chrysotile asbestos, the kind that had been mostly used to make gaskets, did not significantly elevate the risk of developing mesothelioma. One of the central questions that will help establish how much Garlock will owe the claimants revolves around whether Garlock products, many removed decades ago, and no other sources of asbestos, led to cases of mesothelioma.
On cross examination, Brody agreed with Garlock attorneys who pointed out that millions of chrysotile asbestos fibers can be present in a person’s lung at any given time without ever causing cancer.