Lead Paint Makers Rest Their R.I. Case Without Calling Witnesses

January 30, 2006

Lawyers for four lead-paint makers accused of creating a public-health threat that poisons thousands of children a year abruptly rested their case on Jan. 26 without calling any witnesses.

Later in the day, defense lawyer Suesan Lea Pace said in a statement that her client, Millennium Holdings, believes the jury already has enough information to reach a “just and fair verdict.”

Prosecutors had called about a dozen witnesses since the trial began in early November and rested their case one day earlier.

Judge Michael Silverstein dismissed jurors and instructed them to return Feb. 6.

“All of the evidence that you will ultimately base a decision on is before you,” he said.

The state alleges that lead paint, banned from use in homes in 1978, created a public nuisance that continues to sicken children. Studies showed flaking paint or dust can cause brain damage in children who eat or inhale it.

Besides Millennium, the defendants ā€” all former manufacturers of lead paint and pigment ā€” are Sherwin-Williams Co., Atlantic Richfield Co. and NL Industries.

Two industry lawyers argued that the state failed to prove its case against the companies and said the judge should not let the state’s claims go to the jury.

John Tarantino, a lawyer for Atlantic Richfield, argued that the state should not be able to seek punitive damages because the judge earlier barred testimony about how much the state estimates it has spent on problems related to lead paint contamination.

Don Scott, a lawyer for NL Industries, said the state did not show that his client sold or marketed its products in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island’s lawsuit, filed in 1999, was the first attempt by a state to hold the industry responsible for the dangers of lead paint in old buildings. An earlier trial ended in 2002 with a hung jury.

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