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October 18, 2018

A Stubborn Manufacturer Exposes The Asbestos Blame Game

In a quiet bankruptcy court in Charlotte, N.C., closed to all but court personnel and people who’d signed strict confidentiality orders, attorney Garland Cassada laid out the inner workings of one of the longest-running and most lucrative schemes in the American litigation business.

Arguing for a manufacturer of asbestos gaskets named Garlock Sealing Technologies, Cassada explained how lawyers had tailored the testimony of their clients to minimize their exposure to more dangerous products, thus making Garlock seem more liable than it really was.

Cassada’s evidence for this scheme came from the mouths of the asbestos lawyers themselves. In an unprecedented move Garlock had persuaded U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Hodges to allow it to dig into case files and question the lawyers who’d helped drive the company into bankruptcy.

EnPro's Steve Macadam: This is ridiculous.

EnPro’s Steve Macadam: This is ridiculous. (Photo credit: David Smith for Forbes)

That led to revealing disclosures like that of Benjamin Shein, a prominent Philadelphia asbestos attorney whose firm had settled the case of a former shipyard worker named Vincent Golini against then-solvent Garlock in 2009.

Golini was dying of the excruciating, asbestos-linked cancer known as mesothelioma when he sued Garlock and testified that he couldn’t recall working with other, more common and more hazardous products like Owens Corning’s Owens Corning’s Kaylo pipe insulation or EaglePicher asbestos cement. As soon as he settled, however, Golini’s lawyers filed claims against those precise companies based on affidavits they’d drawn up before Golini professed ignorance of their products.

“Our goal is to maximize a client’s recovery, okay, and in order to do that, what we focus on for the deposition is the viable, nonbankrupt companies,” said Shein in his own deposition. “That’s our job, okay?”

And had the asbestos lawyers prevailed, Shein’s efforts and Golini’s multiple filings would have remained secret. But thanks to Garlock’s persistence (and a successful lawsuit by Legal Newsline, a U.S. Chamber-funded publication seeking release of sealed court documents) the evidence has come spilling out. That evidence could be the biggest turning point in the decades-long multibillion-dollar battle over who will pay for asbestos cleanup across the U.S. Garlock is suing Shein and lawyers at five other firms for racketeering and fraud over their asbestos litigation. Shein’s lawyer, Daniel Brier, says that “Ben Shein is a zealous advocate for his clients” and the lawsuit has no merit.

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A Stubborn Manufacturer Exposes The Asbestos Blame Game