Asbestos Fraud Sunshine: a judge plans to open up evidence in the Garlock case

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Federal bankruptcy Judge George Hodges in February took a bold step against asbestos litigation fraud, and the good deeds continue. The North Carolina jurist has decided to unseal all the evidence in his high-profile asbestos case.

Asbestos claims drove gasket-maker Garlock Sealing Technologies into bankruptcy in 2010, and the tort bar demanded the company hand over $1.3 billion. Judge Hodges allowed for discovery into some of the claims and issued an opinion skewering the plaintiffs’ lawyers for a “startling pattern of misrepresentation.” He detailed how the tort bar was essentially double-dipping—filing claims with outside asbestos trusts in which they blamed non-Garlock products for their diseases, even as they blamed Garlock in court.

On Oct. 16 the judge announced that he will now make public all the evidence in the proceedings. He said he shouldn’t have agreed to a trial bar demand that he seal the courtroom at times when Garlock presented evidence. “The hearings should have been opened to the public,” he explained, since it would have enabled “the public to evaluate the Court’s decision based on all of the evidence rather than on simply part of it.”

The plaintiffs’ lawyers were especially eager to keep under seal the details of settlements their clients have won from the nation’s asbestos trusts, as well as personal injury questionnaires that likely show the lawyers are lodging conflicting claims. That evidence will be another month in coming, but stay tuned. Sunshine is the best asbestos fraud disinfectant.

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