Illegal payments to plaintiffs, forged signatures, imaginary doctors, falsified medical evidence -- they're just a smattering of what's alleged to have occurred at the Pittsburgh-based Peirce law firm, under fire for filing fraudulent asbestos lawsuits here in West Virginia.

A longtime target of the Peirce's firm's challenged claims, CSX Transportation is fighting back and in the process, providing a startling look at one of America's most prolific asbestos lawsuit mills.

If the allegations prove correct, lawyers at the Peirce firm have a great deal of explaining to do.

In a detailed report filed last week with Circuit Judge Arthur Recht, CSX lawyer Marc Williams painted a picture that is despicable and incredible. It's a narrative of a law firm routinely filing asbestos suits on behalf of plaintiffs without their knowledge; of a firm encouraging fraud by paying plaintiffs advances on their settlements, and even before medical evidence of claims were provided.

"The Peirce firm prosecuted claims without any professional checks or quality controls and with little or no input from its clients, which only further increased the likelihood of fraudulent outcomes," Williams wrote.

One of the plaintiffs, Rodney Chambers, received $750 from the Peirce firm, which told him to find a doctor who would sign a report confirming his alleged illness, it was alleged.

Chambers infamously returned the report signed "Dr. Oscar Frye," a figment of his imagination inspired by a run-in with a man with the same name at a Fifth Avenue halfway house, according to Williams.

Frye wasn't a doctor. He didn't sign the report. Chambers did. But the Peirce firm allegedly filed it with his lawsuit along with 100 other similar claims on which it hoped to squeeze quick-and-lucrative settlements.

According to CSX, the standard firm practice was don't ask, don't tell, and everyone gets paid.

So how many of the thousands of Peirce cases filed in West Virginia courts -- on the people's dime, it should be noted -- actually are legitimate?

Judge Recht soon will be busy finding out. Let's hope he does a complete vetting and the real fraud gets exposed.

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