Lawyers on both sides of the largest consolidation of asbestos personal-injury claims in U.S. history were trying to explain to a judge today how "secret" psychological profiles of prospective jurors were faxed from the defense to the plaintiffs.
The lawyers spent most of yesterday trying to fashion an explanation for Baltimore Circuit Judge Marshall A. Levin, who is presiding over the trial consolidating 9,032 claims. At the end of the day, the fax incident was still a mystery.
Levin was considering dismissing 51 potential jurors and beginning anew the arduous jury-selection process.
Lawyers for 10 manufacturers of asbestos products have requested a mistrial, claiming the opposition now knows their jury-selection strategy.
Defense lawyers maintain that a clerical error resulted in the confidential report being faxed from Baltimore to a Philadelphia law firm representing one of the plaintiffs. But some plaintiffs' lawyers claim it was a deliberate ruse by the defense.
Fearing that potential jurors may read about the report and learn the lawyers' opinion of them, lawyers for both sides asked Levin yesterday to close the fact-finding hearing to the public.
The judge denied the request, but sealed the report and several copies made by the plaintiffs' lawyers.
Mary R. Craig, a lawyer for The Evening Sun and The Sun, asked the court to black out the identities of the potential jurors and release the report. The judge said he will consider the request.
The inhalation of asbestos fibers has been linked to lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the lung and abdomen. Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used in a variety of products.
The plaintiffs are mostly former steel and shipyard workers who claim they became ill after being exposed to asbestos in the workplace. They are suing 10 companies including Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., GAF and Pittsburgh Corning.
Peter G. Angelos, who represents 90 percent of the Baltimore plaintiffs, told the court the defendants were clearly prejudiced by the disclosure of the report. He urged the judge to dismiss the potential jurors.
But other plaintiffs' lawyers accused the defense of trying to delay the trial.
"The public is waiting and this court is waiting," said Harry Goldman, who represents former shipyard workers at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant.
James P. Ulwick, a defense lawyer, argued that the report gave the other side "a clear indication" of the defense's planned peremptory strikes of potential jurors. Each side is allowed to exclude seven potential jurors without stating a reason.
Some defense lawyers said the report is privileged information. Goldman, however, countered that the fax transmission to the plaintiffs thrust the report into the "public domain."
"They delivered this into our hands," he said.
Meanwhile, the judge yesterday refused the defense lawyers' request to see notes the plaintiffs had made on copies of the report.