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October 18, 2018

Sheldon Silver-linked law firm has hand in asbestos funds

Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm accused of exploiting its connection to Sheldon Silver in New York City’s asbestos court, has come under fire in another lucrative arena — multibillion-dollar bankruptcy trusts.

The East Village firm, which gained more than 100 mesothelioma clients in an alleged kickback scheme by the disgraced assemblyman, sits on 15 advisory committees for trusts set up by bankrupt companies to compensate victims — including Weitz’s own clients.

The loose system fosters a “fox guarding the hen house” culture, says a article published last month by Measley’s Asbestos Bankruptcy Report.

Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver

The 15 trusts guided by Weitz have paid out $12.2 billion between 2006 and 2013. Other trusts, which may also pay Weitz clients, have doled out $51.6 billion, the report says. Lawyers typically get at least 25 percent of the payments.

It’s unknown how many Weitz clients got payments — or whether any were funneled through Silver.

Perry Weitz, a partner in the firm, helped set up trusts for major companies such as Owens Corning, USG, and Kaiser Aluminum, his Web site boasts.

Trusts for asbestos-injured workers — who can file claims and also take active companies to court — still hold about $30 billion.

The system is rife with double-dipping abuse. Lawyers file trust claims blaming a client’s asbestos illness on bankrupt companies, but often hide those claims in lawsuits blaming active companies for the same illness.

For instance, Weitz & Luxenberg won a $25 million verdict against DaimlerChrysler in 2006 in a special Manhattan asbestos court where the firm files 50 to 70 percent of the cases.

At trial, Weitz shot down defense arguments that bankrupt Johns Manville, which made insulation and roofing, shared some blame for the worker’s exposure. “How should they be responsible?” the firm asked.

But a year after the trial, Weitz filed trust claims for the same client seeking payments from Johns Manville.

A Weitz spokesman said the firm had no comment.

In 2011, Weitz asked Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler to drop a requirement that plaintiffs disclose before trial any trust claims they had filed or intended to file.

Heitler, who was replaced as chief asbestos judge last week, denied the motion, but tweaked the rule, saying lawyers did not have to reveal trust claims “they may or may not anticipate filing.”

Her wording left wiggle room for potential fraud, Cardozo Law School professor Lester Brickman told The Post. Brickman, a leading expert on asbestos litigation, testified before Congress lastmonth in favor of a bill to curb the double dealing.

After Silver’s indictment last month, Weitz & Luxenberg claimed it was “shocked” that the former Assembly speaker had steered $500,000 in state grants to Columbia-Presbyterian mesothelioma researcher Dr. Robert Taub, who in turn referred the 100-plus patients.

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Sheldon Silver-linked law firm has hand in asbestos funds

Orange County school, closed because of asbestos, is back in session

School is in session again at an Orange County school that was closed for months after asbestos was discovered.

Oak View Elementary was one of three campuses closed when the hazardous mineral fiber was discovered during an 11-campus modernization project in July.

The closures displaced more than 1,600 students, who were being bused to eight other campuses in four school districts at a cost of $50,000 a week.

Most students returned to Oak View Elementary School in Huntington Beach on Tuesday. Lake View and Hope View elementary schools remain closed.

Oak View students in grades 3 through 5 returned to their original classrooms in portable buildings. Second-graders are being taught in portable buildings that had been used for teacher meetings and after-school programs.

First-graders will attend Sun View Elementary School and kindergartners will remain at Pleasant View School, both in Huntington Beach.

Since Oak View was closed in October, more than 600 Oak View students, including kindergartners, have been attending classes at Village View Elementary, Oak View Preschool, Pleasant View School – all in the Ocean View district – and Walter Knott Elementary in Buena Park.

The district is working on a timeline for asbestos cleanup at Oak View.

According to district documents, air samples taken at Oak View in October did not contain asbestos levels above standards set in the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which regulates how much asbestos can be present in public buildings including schools.

At a board meeting last week, several parents of Oak View students said they were worried about their children falling behind academically while attending temporary schools.

Twitter: @NicoleShine

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

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Orange County school, closed because of asbestos, is back in session

3 months later, O.C. school closed by asbestos scare to reopen

Students displaced from a Huntington Beach grade school will begin returning to campus on Tuesday, more than three months after three schools were closed because of an asbestos scare.

Many of the students who attended the three campuses have been bused to schools elsewhere in Orange County at a cost of $50,000 a week while school officials struggled to deal with the asbestos concerns.

In all, the closures displaced more than 1,600 students.

On Tuesday, students in grades 3 through 5 will return to Oak View Elementary and be reunited with classmates in portable buildings.

Two other campuses, Lake View and Hope View elementary, remained closed.

Since Oak View was closed in October, more than 600 Oak View students, including kindergartners, have been attending classes at Village View Elementary, Oak View Preschool, Pleasant View School – all in the Ocean View district – and Walter Knott Elementary in Buena Park.

The district is working on a timeline for asbestos cleanup at Oak View. The potentially hazardous mineral fiber was discovered at some schools during an 11-campus modernization project that began in July.

When the schools were built decades ago, asbestos was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceilings. Over time, asbestos dust began to fall from the beams and settle on classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

Rising costs caused the district board of trustees to vote last month to delay asbestos removal and modernization construction at Oak View.

According to district documents, air samples taken at Oak View in October did not contain asbestos levels above standards set in the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which regulates how much asbestos can be present in public buildings like schools.

At a recent board meeting, several parents of Oak View students said they were worried about their children falling behind academically while attending temporary schools.

The children lack access to computers at Knott Elementary and can’t practice for automated Common Core tests like their peers can, parents said.

Oak View serves a large number of English as a Second Language students and low-income families, many of whom receive free or reduced-price meals at school, according to California Department of Education data. The relocations have divided siblings and disrupted families, some of whom count on social and family services available at Oak View, teachers told the school board last month.

Special-education teacher Rhonda King said one of her second-graders was accustomed to attending Oak View with his sister, a third-grader. Now he is at Village View in Huntington Beach while his sister is bused to Buena Park.

“He tells me he misses his sister,” King said. “That’s not just one family, it’s a lot of families.”

Nicole.Shine@latimes.com

For more education news, follow @NicoleKShine on Twitter

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

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3 months later, O.C. school closed by asbestos scare to reopen

Swiss billionaire gets 18 years jail for Italian asbestos deaths

MILAN (Reuters) – A billionaire Swiss industrialist convicted for his part in Italy‘s biggest asbestos scandal had his jail sentence lengthened to 18 years on Monday, in a ruling campaigners said would set a precedent for work-safety lawsuits.

Stephan Schmidheiny, found guilty of negligence that led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths, was also ordered to pay millions of euros in damages to local authorities, victims and their families by an appeals court in Turin.

The former owner of Swiss building material maker Eternit was found guilty in February last year and originally sentenced to 16 years in prison and ordered to pay other damages.

He was not immediately sent to jail – prison sentences in Italy are often not enforced until appeals processes, which can take years, are exhausted

The 65-year-old was not in court when the appeals judges rejected his appeal against the sentence and extended it on Monday.

A spokesman based in Zurich said the industrialist would now take his case to Italy‘s top appeals court and dismissed the ruling as “scandalous” and “absurd”.

The Turin court also dropped charges against Belgian Eternit shareholder and former company executive Jean Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, who died on May 21 aged 91.

A WORLD WITHOUT ASBESTOS

Relatives of the victims and hundreds of others filled the courthouse, some holding banners reading: “Eternit: Justice!”

“This verdict encourages the battle by victims and their families for a world without asbestos and without that thirst for profits that sacrifice human lives,” victims’ association Osservatorio Nazionale Amianto said.

Prosecutors had said Schmidheiny intentionally failed to install measures to prevent workers’ health being affected by asbestos at Eternit’s Italian plants, which closed in 1986.

More than 6,000 people – including former employees and residents of the four towns where the plants were located – are seeking damages in the case.

Compensation awarded by the court included 20 million euros to the Piedmont region and 31 million euros to the Casale Monferrato townhall where Eternit had its main Italian plant.

Prosecutors said the lack of safety measures led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people, mostly from cancer triggered by contact with asbestos, and thousands of other cases of chronic pulmonary disease, tumors and other illnesses over the past four decades.

They affected workers and residents of Casale Monferrato and Cavagnolo, two hill towns near Turin; the village of Rubiera in northern Italy; and the seaside town of Bagnoli, outside Naples.

Asbestos fibers became popular from the late 19th century onwards as a way to reinforce cement, often for roofing and cladding, as well as adding sound absorption and heat resistance.

Asbestos is now banned from building materials in much of the West, but is still being used as insulation in developing countries. The inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause lung inflammation and cancer, and symptoms do not tend to appear for many years.

(Reporting By Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Swiss billionaire gets 18 years jail for Italian asbestos deaths