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PHILADELPHIA-The judge overseeing discovery in the 99,000 asbestos cases pending in Philadelphia’s federal court said he wants to wrap up the nearly 16-year-old multidistrict litigation by resolving claims rather than investigating possible fraud. Asbestos defendants have been gearing up to challenge asbestos plaintiffs’ use of screening companies and doctors to build client inventories since the federal judge presiding over the silica products multidistrict litigation in Texas issued a blistering rebuke in June 2005 of bogus silica claims diagnoses-many by the same doctors. [NLJ, 6-12-06.] Acknowledging the possibility for fraud in mass torts, U.S. District Judge James T. Giles said in a Jan. 31 hearing that he did not presume fraud in this case. But he pointedly reminded counsel of their “professional responsibility as to each individual case” in litigating meritorious claims. “This is a court of law, not an investigating grand jury,” Giles said, noting the “overriding material interest which the court shares for the amicable and prompt resolution of any and all filed claims.” Giles told the steering committees on both sides to produce a proposed joint order for discovery within 30 days, and advised them to begin scheduling viable asbestos cases for mediation. In re Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. VI), No. MDL-875 (E.D. Pa.). He told lawyers on both sides that he is prepared “to ratchet up the resources of the court to meeting the demands” of counsel with respect to mediation in order to resolve cases. The judge said that the resolution or remand of pending claims is in the public interest, “whether the claims are for malignant or nonmalignant cases, they’re cases that require administration-prompt administration.” As in other federal multidistrict litigation, the federal panel assigned the cases to Giles for discovery purposes. Cases that do not settle during that period are remanded to their courts of origin for trial. Giles declined to rule at the Jan. 31 hearing on a defense motion seeking the records of Dr. Jay T. Segarra, who is accused by asbestos defendants of being the “third-most prolific screening doctor in the United States,” and of being on a par with doctors in the silica litigation in Texas who since have asserted their Fifth Amendment rights in proceedings related to alleged fraud. Although Giles said he thought that the defense subpoena requested may be too broad, he noted that while the privilege protecting Segarra “may be a shield, it can’t be used to frustrate the processes of the court.” Alan B. Rich of Baron & Budd in Dallas argued a motion on behalf of clients represented by his firm and two others-Silber Pearlman of Dallas and LeBlanc & Waddell of Baton Rouge, La.-to intervene to help block the Segarra subpoena. Giles told Rich he disagreed with him. “That’s what makes a ballgame,” Rich replied. “I don’t see this as a ballgame,” Giles said. “What we’re talking about here is the balancing of important interests and the administration of justice.”

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