CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Legal Newsline) -- After more than three weeks of testimony with expert witnesses and lawyers flown in from across the country, the bankruptcy trial for Garlock Sealing Technologies concluded Thursday with one glaring question left unanswered - just how much money the company sued for making asbestos-containing products decades ago will need to put in a trust to escape bankruptcy.
Garlock has proposed a figure of about $270 million. Lawyers representing asbestos claimants want a billion dollars more than that. Left to decide is Judge George Hodges as lawyers for both sides wrapped up their final witness examinations and rebuttals with the judge closing his courtroom one final time during the testimony of a Garlock attorney discussing questionable claims filed by asbestos plaintiffs.
The judge closed the courtroom to anyone who had not signed confidentiality agreements during the testimony of David Glaspy, a California lawyer who has defended Garlock on more than 25,000 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. The trial, which began in July at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina will determine the estimated liability of the company for current and future asbestos claims.
Attorneys for Legal Newsline have appealed a Hodge's decision to close off testimony and portions of the record of several witnesses.
Legal Newsline filed its motion earlier this month. 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."
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 those transcripts of the entire closed portion be made publicly available.