WHEELING -– U.S. Magistrate Judge James Seibert dropped a curtain of secrecy on a dispute over where to depose former CSX railroad workers alleging malpractice against a Texas law firm.

Seibert posted no minutes of a Nov. 18 hearing, as of Nov. 22, and he sealed a list of exhibits from the hearing.

His docket showed entries with numbers 147 and 149, but no entry appeared for 148.

Thirteen CSX workers and two widows, all from North Carolina, seek an order moving their depositions from Wheeling to locations near their homes.

Their suit alleges that Atlanta lawyer Edward Cook filed personal injury suits against CSX in Georgia and dismissed the suits after Provost Umphrey of Beaumont, Texas, hired him.

They allege Provost Umphrey filed the suits with many others against CSX in Marshall County, West Virginia, without their knowledge or approval.

They claim the value of the suits fell as a result.

When Provost Umphrey set their depositions in Wheeling, their lawyer, Donald Tennant Jr. of Wheeling, pleaded that they suffer from conditions that limit their travel.

He listed injuries and diseases of each client.

He wrote, "Plaintiffs have various medical conditions that make travel difficult, while three are using wheelchairs."

He wrote that the trip would take 1,000 miles driving or cost $500 to $700 flying, plus hotel, car rental and general travel costs.

He wrote that his clients "were hamstrung to file the litigation where the transaction occurred rather than where they resided."

For Provost Umphrey, Michael Garrison of Morgantown answered that they could have sued in North Carolina.

For Cook, Margaret Droppleman of Atlanta agreed with Garrison and argued they could also have sued in Georgia or Texas.

She wrote that when plaintiffs chose to sue in West Virginia they "assumed the burdens, expenses, and inconvenience they now complain of."

She wrote that Tennant failed to support his motion with evidence establishing physical or financial hardship.

Seibert set a hearing Nov. 18, and on that date ten plaintiffs submitted affidavits affirming Tennant's description of their ailments.

One affirmed after writing by hand, "except prostrate, gout and joint replacement."

Seven affirmed arthritis, five affirmed hypertension, and four affirmed obesity.

The record provides no further clue to what transpired at the hearing.

Stamp has set trial to start May 24.

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