Fraud-fighter worries asbestos 'games' will continue

By John O'Brien | Oct 29, 2010


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A Mississippi attorney called his recent victory against a pair of asbestos lawyers a win for all defendants, though he fears the same sort of fraud will continue.

Daniel Mulholland, of Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy in Jackson, successfully alleged a pair of asbestos attorneys defrauded his client, Illinois Central Railroad, leading to a $420,000 judgment against the duo earlier this year.

Half of that amount was classified as punitive damages. William Guy and Thomas Brock were found to have failed to disclose two of their clients' previous involvements in a mass action case, leading to $210,000 paid in settlements by Illinois Central.

"This was a victory, certainly, for us, but also defendants in general," Mulholland said at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform Summit. "Illinois Central was willing to stand up and spent a lot of effort and a lot of time to prosecute."

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Mark Behrens, a Washington, D.C., attorney with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, said it was the first time he is aware of asbestos attorneys have been found to have committed fraud during the litigation.

Mulholland says the amount of mass actions in Mississippi make it a haven for fraud.

Instead of legislative reform, like a 2005 law that changed asbestos and silica proceedings in Texas, Mulholland says the onus for patrolling attorneys is on their colleagues.

"Lawyers are doing a worse job policing themselves than even the doctors (who filed fraudulent screening tests) do," he said.

"Sadly, all the players are still playing, and I think will continue the same games that have been going on this whole time."

Legal trouble for plaintiffs attorneys is nothing new for Mississippi. Famed plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs and a group of co-conspirators were all sentenced to prison time after pleading guilty to a pair of judicial bribery schemes involving attorneys fees disputes. Scruggs made his fortune in asbestos and tobacco litigation.

Another asbestos attorney, Paul Minor, is also incarcerated. He was found guilty of a scheme that involved securing and paying loans for a pair of judges.

Mulholland has also been involved in litigation over Ray Harron, a radiologist alleged to have fabricated screening tests for plaintiffs firms. CSX Transportation has alleged that Harron conspired with a Pittsburgh asbestos firm.

The 2005 Texas law required stronger medical criteria for plaintiffs. If they did not provide it, the cases sat dormant.

In a multidistrict litigation court in Houston, only 21 of more than 5,000 silica claims met those requirements.

"It would certainly be helpful to establish criteria for claims," Mulholland said after his appearance on a panel that discussed fraud and abuse in litigation.

"More importantly, it would be helpful to have authentic medical diagnoses instead of for-litigation-only diagnoses."

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

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