John O'Brien Feb. 6, 2013, 11:56pm
WHEELING – The latest post-trial battle in the racketeering case against Pittsburgh asbestos attorneys and a Bridgeport radiologist concerns the possible tripling of the jury award.
Though attorneys Robert Peirce and Louis Raimond and radiologist Ray Harron want a new trial or for a December jury verdict to be set aside, CSX Transportation says the verdict should be tripled and the defendants should pay its attorneys fees.
CSX filed its motion to treble, or triple, the $429,240.27 on Jan. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. The new total would be $1,287,721.41.
Federal law allows the tripling of damages reached in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization, the motion says.
“(S)uch an amendment would be improper for the reasons explained at length in Defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial, because the underlying verdict is not in fact based on sufficient admissible evidence to support the essential elements of CSX’s civil RICO claims, was achieved based on improper statements and arguments from counsel, and because Defendants are entitled to a new trial because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and was a miscarriage of justice,” the response filed by Peirce and Raimond says.
Because the post-trial motions are still pending, U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp should deny the motion, the attorneys say.
On Dec. 20, an eight-person jury found Peirce, Raimond and Harron committed racketeering, conspiracy and fraud and ordered them jointly and severally liable for a penalty of $429,240.27.
CSX’s original complaint, filed in 2005, said Peirce’s firm hid nine fraudulent claims among other lawsuits filed by the law firm in West Virginia.
The nine lawsuits were filed and settled from 2000-2006. U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp granted summary judgment to the Peirce firm in 2009, ruling a four-year statute of limitations began when the Peirce firm began targeting CSX.
However, nearly two years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that decision and gave new life to the lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Peirce firm’s appeal of the decision.
CSX amended its complaint to include additional claims it said were fraudulent. The Peirce firm filed counterclaims against the company that said it was engaging in fraud by bringing and conducting the lawsuit, though the jury ruled for CSX on them.
If the verdict is allowed to stand, the asbestos attorneys ask that the damages amount be reduced to $95.368.98. The attorneys had previously asked that CSX not be able to recover any damages on RICO claims that post-dated July 5, 2007.
If there were a racketeering scheme, CSX knew about it by then, they argued. The proposed reduction in the verdict amount represents a subtraction of damages for claims after the date, based on legal billings submitted by the company.
On Jan. 21, CSX asked the court to order the defendants to pay its attorneys fees and litigation costs — $9,751,838 and $923,094, respectively.
“Two points bear mentioning at the outset,” the motion says. “First, the fees and expenses that CSXT is seeking are directly attributable to the complexity and duration of the case and the manner in which the defendants litigated it.
“Indeed, fully one-third of the total fees CSXT is seeking were caused by the Lawyer Defendants’ unnecessarily broad post-remand discovery demands.
“Second, the amount CSXT is seeking is substantially less than the total fees CSXT actually incurred and paid in connection with this case. In particular, CSXT has carefully reviewed its billing records and excluded from this motion more than $2.5 million in various fees and expenses.”
In 2005, federal court judge Janis Graham Jack made national headlines when she uncovered duplicate and fraudulent silica diagnoses in her Texas courtroom. Many of those diagnoses were made by Harron and were made on plaintiffs who had already brought asbestos claims.
In Jack’s opinion dismissing the claims, she said “These diagnoses were driven by neither health nor justice – they were manufactured for money.”
Following Harron’s admission that he did not even make the diagnoses of the patients whose X-rays he read, Jack noted that most of “these diagnoses are more the creation of lawyers than doctors.”
CSX’s lawsuit was filed later that year.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at email@example.com.