Asbestos lawyers seeking to avoid settlement disclosure lodge personal attack against Koch Brothers
CHARLOTTE (Legal Newsline) – Asbestos lawyers who have failed to stop an examination of their settlement history plead that it must stop because the Koch brothers – Charles and David – started it.
The strategy of the lawyers turned personal on March 21, in a motion to strike subpoenas that a Koch entity served in bankruptcy proceedings.
Their local counsel Glenn Thompson claimed the brothers vilify cancer victims.
He claimed they designed the subpoenas to impugn the integrity of tens of thousands of claimants.
He also claimed they didn’t demonstrate that claimants were involved in dishonesty, wrongdoing, evidence suppression, or fraudulent conduct.
Charles and the family of the late David Koch own Georgia Pacific through Koch Industries.
In 2017, they split Georgia Pacific into New GP as an operating entity with assets and Bestwall as a debt entity with asbestos liabilities.
Bestwall petitioned for reorganization in bankruptcy court at Charlotte, proposing to resolve all current and future asbestos exposure claims.
Bestwall moved for a trial to estimate current and future liabilities, and bankruptcy judge Laura Beyer granted it.
A committee representing current claimants argued that she should base her estimate on Georgia Pacific’s past settlements.
Bestwall opposed the argument and alleged that fraud inflated the settlements.
It argued that some claimants recovered twice by alleging one set of exposures in private trusts and another set of exposures in court.
Bestwall relied on the previous bankruptcy of Garlock Sealing Technologies, which found enough double dippers in a small sample to bring about swift settlement.
Bestwall moved to serve exposure questionnaires on lawyers for all claimants, and Beyer granted it last year.
Some firms resisted, and Beyer held 2,140 claimants in contempt in January.
The firm of John Simmons in Alton represented 457 of them.
Beyer gave claimants time to purge their contempt, and she set a hearing on sanctions for those who didn’t purge it.
She held a hearing and a second one, and she plans a third on April 6.
Meanwhile, Bestwall’s progress motivated other defendants to create debt entities and file for reorganization.
CertainTeed created DBMP in Charlotte and Owens-Illinois created Paddock Enterprises in Delaware.
Trane filed a joint petition for entities Murray Boiler and Aldrich Pump.
Bestwall served subpoenas on DBMP, Paddock, Murray Boiler and Aldrich Pump on March 2, for production of databases that tracked mesothelioma claims.
On March 18, the claimant committee filed a motion in the DBMP case to quash the subpoena on that entity.
Robert Fox, colleague of lead local counsel Thompson, claimed the attorney who signed the subpoena for Bestwall also represents DBMP.
Fox claimed counsel informed him that DBMP would comply with the subpoena.
“Because the victims of these companies have been afforded no notice or opportunity to protect their individual rights, the committee as the fiduciary appointed to represent the rights of current claimants is the only entity with notice that can protect this most personal and confidential information,” Fox wrote.
He filed a similar motion in the Aldrich Pump and Murray Boiler case on March 19.
On March 21, in Bestwall’s case, Thompson moved to strike all the subpoenas.
He claimed Bestwall sought the databases, “not to objectively assess whether it knew everything it should have known before settling but instead to try to find something it did not know so that it can accuse a claimant of misconduct.”
“The debtor is seeking to impugn all individuals who seek to hold it responsible for its knowing manufacture and distribution of a deadly carcinogen based on hearsay or circumstantial evidence,” he wrote.
Then he turned his attention from Bestwall to the Koch brothers.
He claimed Koch Industries and the family have worked to reshape state and federal asbestos litigation since 2005.
“A central theme of these efforts has been vilification of victims,” he wrote.
The brothers are linked to a campaign of American Tort Reform Association, “to discredit asbestos plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Thompson wrote.
He claimed they contributed at least $2.3 million to American Legislative Exchange Council, “which creates ‘model policies’ of asbestos reform.”
He claimed they funded the party that pursued release of files in the Garlock case.
They also fund media efforts, “to promote asbestos reform and vilify asbestos victims and attorneys,” he wrote.
He claimed that from 2015 to 2019, they contributed $16,652,942 to this publication, Legal Newsline, through its owner, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
“The articles published by Legal Newsline from Jan. 2, 2020 to Feb. 11, 2022 are overwhelmingly supportive of asbestos defendants and critical of asbestos victims and their attorneys,” he wrote.
Thompson asked Beyer to add the subpoena dispute to her April 6 agenda, but she denied his request and set it for April 21.
Bankruptcy Judge Craig Whitley set a hearing in the Aldrich Pump and Murray Boiler case for April 28, and a hearing in the DBMP case for May 12.