Peirce

PITTSBURGH –- Robert Peirce may not lose a West Virginia lawsuit claiming his Pittsburgh-based law firm filed phony asbestos claims, but his insurer figures he might.

Lumbermens Mutual seeks an order in federal court at Pittsburgh relieving it of any duty to defend Peirce against CSX railroad or pay for damage he has caused.

CSX alleges in federal court at Wheeling that Peirce, other lawyers and Bridgeport radiologist Ray Harron violated federal racketeering law in suing CSX.

Lumbermens carried the firm's policy for errors and omissions, but the insurer argues in Pittsburgh that the policy excluded racketeering activities.

In richest irony, defendant Peirce seeks to transfer the Pittsburgh case to Wheeling.

Peirce currently awaits a U.S. Supreme Court decision on his claim that any citizen can sue anybody in any court without any connection between the case and the court.

Circuit Judge Arthur Recht of Wheeling dismissed about 1,000 Peirce suits in 2006, and last year the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed Recht.

Peirce appealed to Washington. If the Court there agrees with him, Recht and others will have to preside over thousands of suits from other states.

In 2000, Peirce's firm sued CSX in Marshall County on behalf of 2,012 persons. About a tenth of them lived or worked in West Virginia.

In 2001, the firm sued CSX in Marshall County on behalf of 917 persons. About a fifth of them lived or worked in West Virginia.

In 2002, the firm sued CSX in Marshall County on behalf of 100 persons. About a fourth lived or worked in West Virginia.

In 2003, the firm sued CSX in Harrison County on behalf of 1,438 persons. One in 13 lived or worked in West Virginia. Peirce persisted anyway.

He would file two more Harrison County suits in 2006, with 72 West Virginians among 858 plaintiffs. But by then, tables had turned.

In 2005, CSX sued Peirce, Louis Raimond, Mark Coulter, their firm and lawyer Robert Gilkison, seeking to recover what it spent to defend and settle Peirce suits.

CSX added radiologist Harron to the suit after U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Texas exposed falsification of X-rays in thousands of suits.

According to CSX counsel Marc Williams of Huntington, Jack's discovery prompted investigations that are ongoing.

Williams claims the Peirce firm coached clients and provided them with answers to questions they could expect defendants to ask.

"Throughout this process the lawyer defendants acted with virtually no guidance from or communication with their clients," he wrote.

He wrote that CSX had no choice but to rely on Peirce's information.

"Under the circumstances created by the Peirce firm, it would have been impossible for plaintiff CSX to investigate each claim on an individual basis," Williams wrote.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp presides over the case.

As the case advanced last September, lawyer Louis Long of Pittsburgh sought an early exit for Lumbermens Mutual.

Long petitioned in federal court at Pittsburgh for declaratory judgment against the Peirce firm, Peirce, Raimond, Coulter, Harron and Gilkison.

"Lumbermens has no obligation to pay any damages that may be imposed upon the Peirce law firm and/or defendants Peirce, Raimond and Coulter pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act of 1970," Long wrote.

He wrote that if liability resulted from an act that was illegal, dishonest, fraudulent, criminal or malicious, the policy excludes coverage and Lumbermens has the right to reimbursement of defense expenses.

He wrote that Lumbermens has no obligation to pay punitive damages that might be imposed on the firm and its lawyers.

U.S. Chief Judge Donetta Ambrose presides over the case. The motion to transfer it to Wheeling remains pending before her.

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