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A Seattle judge has barred the Dallas law firm Waters & Kraus from appearing in asbestos matters in her court pending a Washington State Bar Association investigation of alleged attorney misconduct involving eavesdropping on a jury’s deliberations. Judge Sharon S. Armstrong, chief asbestos judge of King County Superior Court, said that Waters & Kraus attorney Scott L. Frost’s proximity to the jury room near the time that it apparently reached its verdict-and his co-counsel Mark H. Iola’s quick settlement of the case soon afterward-warranted a closer look by bar counsel. Lott v. Saberhagen, No. 05-2-06955-4 SEA (King Co., Wash., Super. Ct.). “It appears that Mr. Frost may have been eavesdropping on the jury deliberations, that he may have overheard the jury’s agreement to a defense verdict, immediately advised Mr. Iola of the jury’s decision, and Mr. Iola settled the case. If this is true, both Mr. Frost and Mr. Iola engaged in misconduct,” Armstrong noted in a letter to Waters & Kraus principal Peter A. Kraus last month. Kraus said in a telephone interview that after having “spoken with the players involved,” he is convinced that nobody did anything improper. The lawyer was sitting in a public place and he didn’t have his ear cupped to the door, Kraus said. He added that the settlement negotiations had been prompted by a question from the jury during deliberations indicating that jurors were not favorably inclined toward the plaintiff. Jeanne F. Loftis, a shareholder at Bullivant Houser Bailey in Portland, Ore., who represents Bondex International, the remaining defendant in the case, declined to comment. Armstrong, who manages King County Superior Court’s asbestos docket, declined to comment. In her letter to Kraus, copies of which were sent to the court file, the Washington State Bar Association and other counsel in the case, Armstrong noted that she had been working in chambers on the afternoon that the Lott jury was deliberating when her “courtroom clerk advised at about 3:45 p.m. that the parties were nearing settlement of the case.” The courtroom clerk “also indicated that Mr. Frost had been sitting on the bench just outside the door to the jury room for approximately an hour, and that at approximately 3:30 p.m. he had leapt up (her expression) and hurried out of the courtroom. Shortly thereafter, he indicated the case was settling,” Armstrong wrote. Although Frost assured Armstrong and Loftis that he had “merely heard general noise coming from the jury room,” Armstrong wrote, she expressed concern that the relatively quick change in what had been Waters & Kraus’ firm $800,000 settlement position indicated otherwise. “Until the matter is resolved, I must decline to admit pro hac vice any member of the Waters & Kraus firm in asbestos cases in my court,” she wrote.

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