| July 24
July 24 A North Carolina federal judge has
struck down a bankruptcy court ruling that sealed evidence and
testimony about gasket maker Garlock Sealing Technologies'
liability for asbestos injuries, saying no compelling reason was
stated to close the proceedings.
The "public and press have a co-extensive right to view and
consider documents tendered" in court, wrote U.S. District Judge
Max Cogburn in the Western District of North Carolina in
Cogburn reversed the sealing order and sent it back to the
bankruptcy court for further consideration.
Garlock, a subsidiary of EnPro Industries Inc, filed
for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2010 as it faced personal
injury claims related to its asbestos-lined gaskets used in
pipes, valves and other industrial applications.
Last year, U.S. Judge George Hodges in the Western District
of North Carolina bankruptcy court presided over a trial to
determine how much Garlock should set aside to cover claims for
mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
Lawyers for plaintiffs, who say they were exposed to
asbestos from Garlock products, argued the figure should be over
$1 billion. But Garlock said its liability was much lower and
that that estimate was based on past settlements that were
inflated by manipulated evidence and fraud, according to court
Legal Newsline, an online publication owned by the U.S.
Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, filed a motion to make all
the bankruptcy proceedings public, but Hodges denied it, saying
certain matters discussed were confidential.
In January, Hodges ruled that Garlock should only have to
pay $125 million for asbestos claims. He also slammed
plaintiffs' lawyers for withholding evidence in previous cases,
"infect(ing) fatally the settlement process and historic data."
After the trial, several companies, including Ford Motor Co
and Honeywell International Inc, joined an appeal
by Legal Newsline to the North Carolina district court to get
the evidence unsealed.
Ford and Honeywell have also been sued over asbestos
exposure and were co-defendants in some cases against Garlock.
"We're optimistic that the evidence will ultimately be
disclosed and that people can form their own opinions," said
Steven Pflaum, a lawyer for Legal Newsline.
Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber
Institute for Legal Reform, called the decision an important
step toward bringing greater transparency to asbestos
EnPro spokesman Dan Grgurich said the company was "pleased
that the judge agrees that the public has a right to access
evidence developed in our case."
Lawyers for Garlock asbestos claimants did not immediately
return requests for comment.
The case is Legal Newsline v. Garlock Sealing Technologies,
U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina,
(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Ted Botha and Richard