Finding that a chemical company CEO offered a “flimsy” excuse for destroying boxes of documents that had already been subpoenaed in a $15 million environmental cleanup case, a federal judge in Harrisburg has ruled that the jury must be instructed to assume that the documents would be damaging to the defense.

But U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo’s ruling in Shulman v. Chromatex Inc. was a significantly more lenient sanction than the plaintiffs had requested. The judge refused to enter a judgment for the plaintiffs because doing so would prejudice other defendants that played no part in the document destruction.

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