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Coakley says no to whistleblower suit against pipemaker

By John O'Brien | Jun 9, 2010


LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has decided not to join a whistleblower lawsuit filed against pipemaker JM Eagle, making her state the third to do so.

Coakley's office notified a federal judge of her decision Wednesday in a case that alleges the company provided substandard piping. The states of California and Florida had already declined, while Nevada, Delaware, Virginia and Tennessee are intervening in the suit.

"We are pleased and gratified that Massachusetts has agreed with a growing number of governmental entities and decided not to be a party to this baseless lawsuit," said Neal Gordon, JM Eagle's vice president of marketing.

"The more states and local governments learn about the facts of case, the less they want to have anything to do with it."

Four other states have until Oct. 29 to make up their minds. They are New Mexico, Illinois, Indiana and New York.

In the complaint, filed in 2006 under seal, 11 states and the District of Columbia were named as real parties in interest.

The law firm Phillips & Cohen is representing whistleblower John Hendrix, who was an engineer for J-M Manufacturing's product assurance division in New Jersey. J-M was JM Eagle's corporate predeccessor.

Hendrix was fired less than two weeks after writing a memo that said the pipes tensile strength was substandard, Phillips & Cohen said.

Forty-three other municipalities and water districts have joined the case, too.

"For safety, economic and health reasons, water and sewer lines need to be reliable and sustainable to meet the needs of Nevada's citizens," Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said.

JM Eagle attorney Lanny Davis, though, said none of the states put much time into investigating the claims. Masto was the only attorney general with whom the company interacted.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, has said the state has experienced "no known failures of the pipe."

The federal government also declined intervening in the suit.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents and conducted what attorney Lanny Davis called a "mini-trial" in which expert testimony was given.

"I'd never seen that before," said Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton. "At the very end of the process, they sent in people to take samples of the pipes, going over several years.

"They told us they were going to test the pipe, then we didn't hear from them anymore."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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