The California Supreme Court has denied a petition to review an asbestos liability case in which a Los Angeles judge blasted the plaintiff's firm, Waters & Kraus, for engaging in a "type of judicially sanctioned extortion."
The case involves a Los Angeles man who died of mesothelioma in December 2007. Six months before his death, the man was deposed in Texas, where the case was first filed. Lawyers for one of the defendants, Crane Co., an industrial product manufacturer, sought to exclude the man's deposition because it was insufficient to meet the stricter burden for obtaining summary judgment in California, where the case had been re-filed.
On April 7, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz refused to grant summary judgment but concluded that Waters & Kraus has re-filed the case in California to force a settlement. He added that the firm, which goes by Waters Kraus & Paul in California, had played the same "grisly game of asbestos litigation" in at least nine cases.
A state intermediate court of appeal denied a petition to review the case, which Crane's lawyers said in court papers could affect "potentially hundreds of pending and future asbestos personal injury and wrongful death actions in California."
Crane then petitioned the California Supreme Court. The Washington Legal Foundation, in a June 25 letter to that court, expressed concern about "the massive scope of asbestos litigation faced by courts and litigants over the past several decades" and urged the justices to address the conflict.
On July 8, the justices refused to grant a hearing for Crane's petition.
A similar petition before the California Supreme Court, filed by another defendant in the case, Union Carbide Corp., is pending.
The Crane case is continuing through discovery toward trial.
Peter Kraus, managing partner of Waters & Kraus, which is based in Dallas, said that he expects the Union Carbide petition to be denied, too.
"What this means is [that] it confirms what California law is with respect to a deposition taken in another state against the same parties in a similar matter -- which is that those depositions, when properly taken under the rules of the other state, are admissible," he said.
"The trial judge in his order cast some aspersions on us and our conduct, and invited the court to reconsider this on appeal. But the intermediate appeal court and the Supreme Court declined to do that and reaffirmed that what we did was entirely proper in this case."
Nicholas Vari, a partner in the Pittsburgh office of K&L Gates, who represents Crane, said: "It's unfortunate that the Supreme Court didn't get to hear the issue, but it's certainly a matter that needs to be addressed at some point."
He said that his client would continue to pursue the issue in the courts.
Union Carbide's attorney, Farah Nicol, a partner at McKenna, Long & Aldridge in Los Angeles, did not return a call for comment.