W.R. Grace Asbestos Case Takes Turn as Appeals Court Rules Against Government

A federal appeals court has ruled that a district court judge acted properly in requiring the federal government to finalize its list of witnesses and documents in the asbestos case against W.R. Grace and Co., the owners of a vermiculite mine in Libby , Montana , which was contaminated with asbestos.
In early 2005, the district court judge established a schedule for the case, giving the government six months to create its list of witnesses and exhibits. Federal prosecutors met the deadline, but asserted that they would be continuing their investigation, reserving the right to make additions to the witness and exhibit lists through the trial. When the defense complained that this was unfair, the district court judge agreed and entered another order constraining the government from adding any more witnesses or exhibits. Government lawyers argued on appeal that the court had exceeded its authority, and a three-judge panel from the 9 th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in the summer of 2007, reversing the order.

However, W.R. Grace and Co. asked for a review by a larger panel of 9 th Circuit judges, and that review upheld the original order, holding that the District Court “ did have the authority to issue and enforce its pretrial orders compelling the government to disclose its witness list and did not abuse its discretion in doing so.” Neither the US attorney’s office in Montana or the W.R. Grace Co. had any immediate comment on the ruling. The asbestos case began in 2005 when Grace and several former employees were charged with conspiring to hide the facts concerning health risks posed by the vermiculite mine, which has been closed since 1990. There have been more than 200 asbestos-related deaths in Libby, the site of the mine, and there are approximately 2,000 people currently living with asbestos-related diseases in the area.