Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Nov. 14, 2014, 10:13am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – After Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges ordered the Garlock Sealing Technologies bankruptcy case unsealed for public access, a district judge has also granted access to the record for the accompanying racketeering cases against asbestos plaintiffs firms.

On Oct. 23, Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina concluded that the sealed filings in the RICO cases are subject to the public’s right of access.

As a result, he set up a procedure to disclose the documents associated with the lawsuits against the plaintiffs firms.

Specifically, Cayer ordered the earlier sealing orders to be vacated, unsealed all sealed filings in the cases and directed the clerk to make the materials available to the public in their entirety.

However, in a Nov. 13 order, Cayer ordered the parties to redact personally identifying information such as social security numbers and dates of birth before the materials may be made available to the public.

All redactions must be completed before Jan. 15.

The RICO cases were filed days before Hodges’ Jan. 10 ruling in favor of Garlock in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina that ordered the gasket manufacturer to put $125 million in an asbestos trust – roughly $1 billion less than what plaintiffs’ representatives felt was proper. In his decision, Hodges noted how attorneys had been withholding evidence while pursuing claims against Garlock, thus inflating settlements.

While evaluating Garlock’s proper liability, allegations surfaced that plaintiffs’ attorneys had engaged in “fraud, deceit and other activities prohibited by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)” when settling asbestos plaintiffs’ claims with Garlock.

The plaintiffs filed four separate RICO lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against Belluck & Fox, LLP, Simon Greenstone, Waters & Kraus LLP and Shein Law Center Ltd.

Michael W. Magner, lead attorney for Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett PC, stated in a press release on Monday that the unsealed record will reveal that the firms did not withhold evidence or engage in fraud.

“This lawsuit represents nothing more than a frivolous effort to discourage victims of asbestos products and their representatives from seeking just compensation,” Magner stated. “If the case against my clients is not dismissed by the court, there will be much more to come in the way of documents and testimony when the case enters the discovery phase of the litigation. We will push for all communications between Garlock and its attorneys to be unsealed so we can identify for the public the individuals responsible for Garlock’s bankruptcy.”

“Garlock’s current allegations are revisionist history, and fly in the face of reason and common sense,” he added. “Garlock has no one but its officers, attorneys and consultants to blame for what in hindsight was a failed litigation strategy.”

From Legal Newsline: Reach Heather Isringhausen Gvillo at asbestos@legalnewsline.com

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