Paper chase gets ugly

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


Dow Chemical Co. has accused residents along the Tittabawassee River of destroying documents, providing false information and failing to disclose court-ordered records in a lawsuit over dioxin contamination.

Attorneys called for an emergency meeting today with Saginaw County Chief Circuit Judge Leopold P. Borrello, asking for the court to intervene.

"It is clear that the plaintiffs' attorneys are either not communicating effectively with their clients or misinforming them about what their responsibility is in producing information important to this case," said Dow spokesman Scot Wheeler.

Some complaints are as simple as a resident not providing a home appraisal. Others tell of residents burning documents or deleting e-mails that attorneys believe are pertinent to the lawsuit.

The Midland-based chemical giant will ask to interview more than the 50 people approved by Judge Borrello last month.

The hearing is to start at 1:30 p.m. today.

Jan P. Helder, an attorney representing the residents, said he was "enraged" by Dow's insinuations of dishonesty and misconduct.

"Dow is trying to demonize and harass these plaintiffs in an effort to intimidate them out of the lawsuit," he said. "They have conducted depositions that have lasted seven to eight hours and asked them about topics that are not even related to this case.

"Now they attack these people for not having maintained every piece of paper they have ever had on dioxin. These are ordinary people with ordinary computers who have limited space to save e-mails. They are not on a corporate document retention plan."

Helder accused Dow of trying to stall the process and predicted that the company would ask the judge to postpone a February hearing that will decide whether the lawsuit gains class-action status.

Wheeler said the blame for any delay in the process should fall on the plaintiffs, who he said have failed to produce documents ordered by the court.

"These individuals brought suit against the company," he said. "They need to prove that the suit they brought has validity."

Dow attorneys, who have conducted half of the approved depositions, listed in their motion 17 instances of residents withholding, destroying or providing false information.t

Jeremiah Stettler is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach him at 776-9685.


© 2004 Saginaw News.

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