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A Pittsburgh judge on Friday continued until Wednesday a hearing regarding plaintiffs’ efforts to have a stay on filing asbestos lawsuits against Halliburton Co. lifted. As a result, Wednesday becomes a likely “drop-dead deadline” for a settlement between the Dallas-based energy services company and thousands of asbestos plaintiffs, said Steven Kazan, a plaintiffs’ lawyer at Oakland, Calif.-based Kazan, McClain, Edises, Abrams, Fernandez, Lyons & Farrise. Judge Judith Fitzgerald in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania is really presiding over Harbison-Walker Refractories Corp.’s Chapter 11 case, but Halliburton is involved because Harbison was once a unit of Dresser Industries, which Halliburton purchased. “We continue to be cautiously optimistic,” said Kazan about reaching a settlement by Wednesday. Meanwhile, the talks between asbestos plaintiffs and Honeywell International Inc. in the related Chapter 11 case of North American Refractories Co. (Narco) are unlikely to result in a settlement by a Jan. 17 deadline Fitzgerald set for the two sides to present a deal to her, Kazan said. “The Honeywell case is very different,” he said. “The whole Honeywell-Narco bankruptcy is a fraud. Honeywell’s entire net worth is potentially at risk.” Both Harbison-Walker and Narco, subsidiaries of Austrian company RHI AG, filed for bankruptcy in February to deal with mounting asbestos lawsuits. Since then, Honeywell, which once owned Narco, and Halliburton have been trying to settle thousands of asbestos lawsuits stemming from those two units. Asbestos plaintiffs are the biggest creditors in the Harbison and Narco bankruptcies. The question from the beginning of both cases had been whether Halliburton and Honeywell might eventually be forced into bankruptcy to protect their assets from asbestos plaintiffs. If Halliburton or Honeywell doesn’t reach a so-called global settlement on asbestos matters, the question about bankruptcy becomes more urgent. Halliburton has already settled asbestos cases with 300,000 claimants who have signed an agreement in principle with the company. But there are several pending asbestos lawsuits that Halliburton hasn’t settled, and those plaintiffs have yet to sign on. Even if Halliburton can get the approval of 75 percent of the asbestos plaintiffs necessary to get the bankruptcy court to approve the plan, the deal won’t work unless all or nearly all the plaintiffs agree to it. The deal under discussion involves Halliburton contributing cash, which is expected to come from the company’s insurers, and 60 million shares to a trust. The deal is reportedly worth about $4 billion. That trust is where anyone who looks to sue Halliburton for asbestos injuries or asbestos exposure would have to turn to for compensation in the future. For Halliburton, the key to the deal is the creation of a trust that ends mounting asbestos lawsuits. If some plaintiffs refuse to sign on to the settlement and challenge it, then it won’t be worthwhile for the company to pursue it, bankruptcy lawyers say. Eric Green, a Boston University law professor, mediated the part of the settlement that deals with people who have yet to file asbestos lawsuits against the companies, but still might. Copyright �2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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