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Attorneys for a major asbestos maker have withdrawn their claim that a New York Supreme Court clerk in Manhattan helped backdate amended asbestos complaints at the behest of plaintiffs’ firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Saying a former Weitz & Luxenberg employee and key witness now asserts that the documents in question were not asbestos-related, attorneys for G-I Holdings have notified Southern District of New York Judge Robert W. Sweet that they were withdrawing their claim of common-law fraud against the firm. The development is the latest turn in the almost 3-year-old case of G-I Holdings Inc. v. Baron & Budd, in which G-I asserts that Weitz & Luxenberg and fellow plaintiffs’ firms Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole and Baron & Budd were part of a concerted effort to punish G-I for its attempts to persuade Congress to impose a cap on asbestos-related claims and attorney fees. The case, which has been characterized as a counterattack by the asbestos industry against plaintiffs’ firms, includes allegations that Baron & Budd systematically coached witnesses to lie in depositions about their exposure to asbestos. The claims about coaching witnesses pursuant to the so-called “Baron & Budd memorandum” remain in the case and are part of an ongoing discovery dispute between the parties. But now out of the case are charges concerning Elba Aguilar, a clerk at Manhattan Supreme Court with three daughters who at one time worked at Weitz & Luxenberg — one of whom was with the firm as a paralegal when the backdating claim was made. The claim that is now withdrawn said Weitz & Luxenberg used that relationship to “embark on a fraudulent scheme” to remedy the problem of failing to amend a complaint on time by “backdating the amended pleading, falsifying the filing stamp and altering the books and records of the New York County Supreme Court to falsely reflect that the amendment had been filed long before it was actually filed.” The case was referred to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau for investigation, but no charges have been filed. The plaintiffs claim that former Weitz & Luxenberg paralegal Juan Adorno allegedly told their investigator, an employee of Kroll Inc., that he was sent to the courthouse in lower Manhattan in May 2000 with amended complaints that he handed to Aquilar. DIFFERENT VERSION However, in March of this year, Elkan Abramowitz of Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Silberberg, who represents Weitz & Luxenberg, wrote to G-I attorney Thomas Kavaler of Cahill Gordon & Reindel saying Adorno was telling a version of events that “would seem to destroy the viability” of the claim. Those differences were “so stark,” Abramowitz said, that he obtained an affidavit in which Adorno “unequivocally denies ever informing Kroll that he brought an amended complaint to court.” In fact, Abramowitz, in calling on the plaintiffs to abandon their claim, said Adorno “is confident that the documents he brought to court were ‘estate-related documents, and not complaints or amended complaints.’” On Oct. 24, after months of correspondence with attorneys representing Weitz & Luxenberg in which he sought additional discovery into why Adorno’s version of events had allegedly changed, Kavaler sent a letter to Judge Sweet withdrawing the claim. Despite the withdrawal, the dispute may not be over. In October letters to the court, Kavaler and co-counsel Peter Wang of Friedman, Wang & Bleiberg charge that there is a persistent problem with witnesses changing their stories in the case. Although the letters concern alleged witness coaching and do not specifically mention Adorno, the attorneys have asked Judge Sweet for a conference on the matter. Both Abramowitz and Kavaler declined comment Thursday.

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