CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Legal Newsline) - Attorneys for Legal Newsline have appealed a U.S. bankruptcy court judge's decision to close off testimony and portions of the record of several witnesses speaking about questionable claims filed by asbestos plaintiffs during the ongoing bankruptcy trial for Garlock Sealing Technologies.
The trial, which began in July at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina and is expected to end later this month after a week-and-a-half break, will determine the estimated liability of the company for current and future asbestos claims.
To try and limit the company's liability, Garlock attorneys are asserting that some plaintiffs, taking advantage of confidentiality provisions enacted for special trusts established to pay claimants who came into contact with asbestos, are using the provisions to allow them to sue multiple defendants while using the same argument that each respectively was the cause of their illness.
Legal Newsline filed its motion Tuesday. Judge George Hodges previously denied a Garlock motion to remove confidentiality designations from evidence relating to the trust claim in addition to a Legal Newsline motion filed shortly after the judge closed his courtroom during the testimony of a law professor speaking about fraud and abuse on the part of claimants.
In a written order explaining his decision denying the Legal Newsline motion, Hodges stated several factors including the circumstances of certain asbestos plaintiffs' cases, plaintiffs' particular exposures, "how the law firms responded to discovery, the questions they asked their clients in so responding, and how the law firms approached settlement negotiations," amounted to "trade secrets, confidential business information, and attorney-client privileged information about which the parties involved have significant privacy rights. The court has concluded that those rights outweigh the public's interest in those matters."
In the decision, the judge stated that the fact that the hearing "is not a dispositive proceeding," was a consideration.
"The closing of the proceedings has been narrowly drawn and has resulted in the 'public' being excluded only for a very small portion of the proceedings. The proceedings have otherwise been open to the public."
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. Hodges will ultimately decide the estimated liability of the company for current and future asbestos claims and how much money the company will need to devote to a trust to escape bankruptcy.
Legal Newsline's attorneys are challenging Hodges' decision under a First Amendment claim. In its motion, attorneys requested that the rest of the remaining trial stay open to the public and that transcripts of all the closed portion be made publicly available.
The trial is scheduled to resume Aug. 22.