Pretrial proceedings for the criminal trial against W.R. Grace moved forward as an 80-person jury pool was selected, and an evidentiary hearing was held. U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy was charged with settling disputed factors of the case such as the use of expert witnesses and scientific studies in the environmental crimes case against W.R. Grace. W.R. Grace is charged with putting the townspeople of Libby, Montana, at risk for asbestos exposure by downplaying the health hazards from the dust originating at its vermiculite mine. Jury selection was slated to begin on February 19, when the pool of 80 potential jurors is narrowed down to 12.
These 80 hailed from the 400 people living in Missoula, where the trial was held. Proceedings of three months or more await the jurors, who will be compensated $40 per day for listening to the lawyers for both sides make their cases. Many obstacles have stood in the way of the Grace “mega-trial” since it was initiated in 2006 when legal contentions ran the matter through the appellate courts to the U.S. Supreme Court. In October 2008, 1.7 million pages of documents were turned over by the government, but the defense claims that such evidence cannot be used. According to defense lawyer Scott McMillin, “[the government] cannot be rewarded for using a hide-the-ball tactic to dump a ton of information on the defendants” just before the trial. McMillin continued, saying, “While the government has had years to look at these studies, defense experts only have a few months.” The assistant U.S. District Attorney Kris McLean argued that, the information found by the government, “simply cannot physically or logistically be performed on an intermittent or rolling basis.” The seven defense attorneys were given four hours for their opening remarks, one hour for the lawyer representing W.R. Grace and 30 minutes for each of the other six individual defendants. Prosecutors only had the usual two hours. Results of the trial are pending.