Major Asbestos Law Firm Barred from Court over "Double-Dipping"; Old Media Ignores

On January 9, at this December 7, 2006 post on asbestos lawsuit double-dipping ("the process by which lawyers file claims at many different bankruptcy trusts on behalf of a single plaintiff"), I received this comment from Brayton Purcell (#11 if your browser doesn't take you directly to it), the law firm that attempted a fifth dip on behalf of one of their clients, and was caught in the act of doing so by Judge Harry Hanna of the Cuyahoga County (OH) Court of Common Pleas.

The comment is a reprint of the response the law firm sent to the Wall Street Journal in response to Kimberly Strassel's OpinionJournal.com column in early December on the situation.

The Journal updated in a Monday, January 22 subscription-only editorial, and the results reported make a mockery of the comment referred to above:

The judicial hammer finally came down last week on the California law firm of Brayton Purcell, one of the giants of the asbestos bar. All the firm had done was file a false claim, lie in court and obstruct discovery. But hey, everyone has a bad day once in a while.

The ruling came from Ohio Judge Harry Hanna of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, as he barred Brayton Purcell from practicing in his court. In the process, the judge exposed one of the darker corners of tort abuse: asbestos trusts, or funds set up by bankrupt companies to pay legal claims.

The judge is overseeing a suit brought by Brayton Purcell, which claimed Lorillard Tobacco's cigarettes had caused the late Harry Kananian's mesothelioma. What emerged in court, however, is that Brayton Purcell and other firms had previously filed numerous claims to other asbestos trusts claiming that Kananian had developed his asbestos cancer for different reasons.

This is called "double dipping," and because trust payouts are confidential the public rarely learns of these abuses. Our Kimberley Strassel exposed the Kananian scam last year on these pages, reporting on court records showing that Brayton Purcell and its lead attorney, Christopher Andreas, had gone to extraordinary lengths to hide these facts.

In his opinion, Judge Hanna found that Brayton Purcell disobeyed court orders and lied to the court about it; that it had filed a false claim to an asbestos trust, because "this fiction, of course, improved chances of recovery from the trust"; that Mr. Andreas had lied to the court about what he knew about the claim forms and when and had encouraged trusts to resist discovery; and that the lead counsel had shown a "shocking" lack of "respect" during his deposition.

"The record before this court indicates that Brayton Purcell institutionally and Christopher Andreas individually have failed to abide by our rules. They have not conducted themselves with dignity. They have not honestly discharged the duties of an attorney in this case. Therefore, they have forfeited their privileges to practice before this court," the judge wrote.

Cuyahoga County has long been a mecca for asbestos lawsuits, and tens of thousands are still pending. Judge Hanna and two of his colleagues are charged with overseeing that docket, which means that Brayton Purcell's banishment is a serious sanction that hurts its pocketbook.

The editorial goes on to hope that the Ohio Bar Association sees fit to take disciplinary action, and that other judges start scrutinizing the documents submitted to them in asbestos-related matters more thoroughly.

The law firm's comeuppance is a single but significant hard-fought victory over particularly egregious form of legal malpractice, and Judge Hanna deserves the thanks of all remaining legitimate asbestos victims, who may find there is actually money left for them not illegally raided by the likes of Brayton Purcell.

It is also a classic "good guy exposes bad guy's corruption" story that you would ordinarily expect the formerly Mainstream Media to jump on. But as you can see from this Google News search that located fewer than 20 results (and a few of those are unrelated PR releases), the story has received very little national exposure, and none in the Old Media "newspapers of record," namely the NY Times, Washington Post, or LA Times (links are to searches on "Brayton Purcell," in quotes, at each paper, all of which contain no results).

So why isn't this news? Could it be that anything that doesn't fit the riding-to-the-rescue template that Old Media seems to favor when covering the plaintiff's bar really isn't worth reporting?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.