The Mississippi Supreme Court has halted all proceedings in an asbestos case until it determines whether the trial judge should have stepped down. The case resulted in a $322 million verdict.
In an order signed Tuesday, Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. granted a petition filed by Union Carbide for a review of whether Circuit Judge Eddie H. Bowen of Smith County should not have presided over the case. Waller set a briefs deadline of Aug. 11. The court also cancelled a post-trial motions hearing scheduled before Bowen on Friday.
On May 18, attorneys for Union Carbide said Bowen neglected to notify defense lawyers that his parents had been involved in similar asbestos litigation and had settled a case against Union Carbide. When Bowen didn’t respond to the petition, Union Carbide went to the Supreme Court.
On May 4, a jury in Smith County awarded $300 million in punitive damages and $22 million in actual damages to Thomas C. Brown, who claimed he had inhaled asbestos dust while mixing drilling mud sold and manufactured by Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Union Carbide.
Allen Hosselly, a Dallas attorney who represented Brown, told The Associated Press that he felt both the plaintiff and defense were treated fairly by the judge during the trial. He said if there was some conflict involving the judge the defense “didn’t raise it until after the verdict came down.”
In a statement, Union Carbide said Bowen made “offhand comments” during the trial about how his father might have been exposed to asbestos at Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula. Union Carbide said Howard J. Bowen, identified as the judge’s father, had sued Union Carbide and others in 1989 and 1992.
Bowen, according to the motion, was a practicing attorney when his father and mother sued Union Carbide seeking $1 million for emotional distress, and at least one case is still outstanding. Union Carbide settled with the elder Bowens.
The judge’s bias and prejudice against Union Carbide and Chevron Phillips, the other party being sued, were evidenced in his rulings, comments in front of the jury, and his coaching of Brown’s attorneys in questioning witnesses, according to Union Carbide’s motion.
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