AIA Pleased With Removal of Judge in Asbestos Bankruptcy Cases

May 20, 2004

The American Insurance Association (AIA) on Wednesday praised a recent federal appeals court ruling that removed a judge from overseeing three major asbestos-related bankruptcy cases in New Jersey.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of judges from the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said U.S. District Judge Alfred Wolin had created the appearance of bias because several “advisers” he appointed were plaintiffs’ lawyers in other asbestos bankruptcy cases. The ruling was issued Monday.

In a friend of the court brief, AIA had urged the panel to order Judge Wolin to recuse himself from the bankruptcy cases involving W.R. Grace, Owens Corning and U.S. Gypsum.

“It is always important that litigants have no reason to believe that the judicial deck may be in any way stacked against them. That is particularly so when the financial stakes are as high as they are in asbestos bankruptcy litigation,” said Craig Berrington, AIA senior vice president and general counsel. “In these cases, Judge Wolin’s use of advisers who could reasonably be perceived to have a stake in the outcome of the litigation jeopardized this critical perception of objectivity, which is at the core of the legal system.”

The appeals court said meetings Judge Wolin had with his advisors, held without participation from other parties in the case, created the appearance of bias. The court found no evidence of actual bias but ruled that a reasonable person might question the judge’s objectivity.

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