WHEELING – U.S. Magistrate Judge James Seibert stunned Pittsburgh lawyer Robert Peirce and Bridgeport radiologist Ray Harron by suggesting sanctions and expenses for their refusal to answer questions from CSX Transportation.

Seibert's May 14 order requiring answers from Harron and Peirce consulting physician Richard Cassoff didn't impose sanctions but left them for a later day.

He set a hearing for June 13.

CSX's suit in federal court seeks recovery for the cost of defending and settling asbestos claims, alleging that Peirce and Harron conspired to fabricate evidence.

Seibert's reference to sanctions caught the defendants by surprise because CSX didn't move for sanctions.

On May 26, Jerald Jones of Clarksburg objected for Harron and Walter DeForest of Pittsburgh objected for the Peirce firm.

DeForest sought to overturn Seibert's ruling that the firm lacked standing to move for a protective order on Cassoff's deposition.

He sought to strike Seibert's finding that the motion was absurd.

He argued that he filed it to protect the firm from "unnecessary and biased publication in the media of issues related to this case."

He inserted a transcript of a May 1 hearing where he told Seibert, "It seems like everything that happens in this litigation ends up in the newspaper somehow."

"Counsel's reference to the media is consistent with the arguments in the arguments in the motion for protective order that the discovery could be harassing, annoying and oppressive," he wrote. "... Apparently in response to the Peirce firm's stated concerns about the extensive media coverage, Magistrate Judge Seibert limited those who could attend Dr. Cassoff's resumed deposition and ordered that the continued deposition of Dr. Cassoff be sealed.

"Rather than being absurd or somehow sanctionable, we believe it would have been malpractice not to have moved for the requested protective order so that our clients' interests can be protected.

"This is particularly true given CSX's repeated attempts to attack the Peirce Firm's asbestos litigation and given that 'everything that happens in this litigation ends up in the newspaper somehow.'"

He didn't name the newspaper at the hearing, but he clearly was referring to The West Virginia Record, which has covered this case for years.

Just like anyone can, the staff of The Record accesses all documents related to this case online. Anyone can read any document in any federal court at any computer, for a fee, unless a judge has sealed the document.

The public can't read depositions, sealed or not. The public can catch a glimpse of one if a lawyer posts an excerpt to verify a statement in support of a motion.

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