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Landmark lead paint appeal to be Webcast

By John O'Brien | Apr 25, 2008

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The closely watched appeal of a lead paint verdict in Rhode Island will also be watched easily.

That's because the Rhode Island Supreme Court plans to Webcast the May 15 hearing, which has attracted national attention.

It's an unusual move by the Court, which will put one or two cameras in the courtroom, according to a report in the Providence Journal.

"There was widespread interest from attorneys all over the country who would otherwise have to attend if we couldn't make this available," courts spokesman Craig Berke said in the report. "There has been a lot of interest from attorneys, legal publications, brokers and investment companies."

Lead paint was outlawed in 1978, and plaintiffs firm Motley Rice convinced former Rhode Island Attorney General Shelden Whitehouse to hire it on a contingency fee to bring the first state-backed case over the issue in 1999.

An attorney at Motley Rice thought of using a claim of public nuisance as a way around certain defenses, like the tolled statute of limitations.

The first trial resulted in a mistrial, the second (filed by current Attorney General Patrick Lynch) in a 2006 verdict against three companies, NL Industries, Millennium Holdings and Sherwin-Williams.

The state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the companies' appeal May 15. If the verdict is upheld, they may be on the hook for Lynch's proposed $2.4 billion abatement plan, but will not pay any compensatory or punitive damages.

Similar suits have failed in Wisconsin, Missouri and New Jersey. Sherwin-Williams attorney Charles Moellenberg blamed the Rhode Island loss on jury instructions given by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein.

An amicus brief filed by 16 state attorneys general defended Rhode Island's suit. Motley Rice attorney Jack McConnell told the Providence Journal that he has been approached by other states about filing similar actions.

The schedule for the hearing is as follows:

9:00 A.M.
Track One - Liability
Defendants: 1 Hour
State: 1 Hour
Rebuttal: 10 Minutes
Track Two - Compensatory Damages

State: 10 Minutes
Defendants: 10 Minutes
Rebuttal: 2 Minutes

Ten Minute Break

Track Three - ARCO

State: 10 Minutes
ARCO: 10 Minutes
Rebuttal: 2 Minutes

Track Four - Contempt

Defendants: 10 Minutes
State: 10 Minutes
Rebuttal: 2 Minutes

Track Five - Contingency Fee

Defendants: 10 Minutes
State: 10 Minutes
Rebuttal: 2 Minutes

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