VW wants hearing over asbestos expert's influence on NCI

By Steve Korris | Feb 11, 2010


PHILADELPHIA - Volkswagen of America has asked U.S. Multi District Judge Eduardo Robreno for a hearing about the influence of asbestos expert Arthur Frank on public statements of the National Cancer Institute.

"Dr. Frank's lobbying efforts go to the central issue in all asbestos litigation against friction defendants, the issue of general causation," Alice Johnston of Pittsburgh wrote for VW on Feb. 3.

"As every friction case necessarily involves the preliminary issue of general causation, the documents and information sought will have an impact on every friction case," she wrote.

Auto makers and other friction defendants face claims from mechanics who allege they inhaled asbestos while repairing brakes.

Last July, in a deposition for litigation in Madison County, Frank shared credit with lawyer Christian Harley for shaping statements on the institute's website.

Frank said, "I was unhappy with the new changes just as I was unhappy with the last language and thought that this might be an opportunity, given that we now had a new administration and perhaps a more honest administration, that this might be a time to intercede to see that a more accurate set of statements got made."

Auto makers in multi district litigation before Robreno served a subpoena on Frank to find out more about the changes.

Frank moved in August to quash the subpoena, but he didn't request a hearing.

After negotiations failed, VW asked for a hearing.

"There has been no progress in resolving the discovery issues raised by the subpoena," Johnston wrote.

She wrote that lobbying communications are not protected from the discovery process.

"Resolution of the outstanding motion and enforcement of the outstanding subpoena will have a significant effect on all cases involving every MDL friction defendant, not just one or two specific cases," she wrote.

On Feb. 4, Allied-Signal moved to join VW in asking for a hearing.

Frank, chairman of environmental and occupational health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, charges $400 an hour as an expert.

In his deposition last year, he said he billed about $380,000 in 2008.

Drexel's dean of public health, Marla Gold, said last year that the money goes into a school account and Frank keeps nothing.

Robreno presides over asbestos suits from federal courts around the nation by appointment of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation.

After he enforced a previous judge's order requiring a separate suit for each plaintiff against each defendant, his docket carried more than three million cases.

The mass keeps shrinking as Robreno and a platoon of magistrates push lawyers to settle and dismiss suits in batches.

On Feb. 3, Kip Harbison of Norfolk, Va., dismissed all claims of 42 clients.

He dismissed claims of 74 others against Owens-Illinois.

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