CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Legal Newsline) -- A federal judge Wednesday expelled members of the media and public from his courtroom during witness testimony for the second time in the ongoing bankruptcy trial of Garlock Sealing Technologies.
As John Turlik, a partner in the firm Segal, McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, who previously worked as regional counsel for the gasket manufacturer gave testimony, Judge George Hodges asked that anyone in the courtroom who had not signed a confidentiality agreement exit the proceedings.
Earlier in the day, Hodges denied a Legal Newsline motion to keep the entire trial open to the public and to unseal closed portions of testimony by a law professor given last week.
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. 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.
To try to limit the company's liability, its attorneys are asserting that some plaintiffs, taking advantage of confidentiality provisions pertaining to special trusts established to pay claimants who came into contact with asbestos, are using the provisions to allow them to sue multiple defendants while arguing that each defendant was the cause of their illness.
On Wednesday, Turlik was called by Garlock attorneys to testify as an expert about litigation strategies the company adopted to deal with an onslaught of plaintiffs suing the company over asbestos exposure from its products.
In the portion of his testimony that was not closed to the public, Turlik testified that as counsel for Garlock part of their strategy was to look at the long term. He said the company realized the litigation costs to take all of the claimants to trial would "be really expensive." As such, the company decided to make group settlement deals for a large number of the cases to save on cost.
He said that in the past, Garlock had been sued along with insulation manufacturers. In those cases, Garlock mounted mostly successful defenses by claiming it was the insulation manufacturers' products that led to the fatal cancer, not their own. Then in the late 1990s, many of those companies began filing for bankruptcy leaving Garlock to defend itself on its own and plaintiffs who had been testifying about exposure to asbestos insulation began to disappear.