Residents' attorney defends his case

Thursday, December 11, 2003


Bad facts? Jan Helder doesn't think so.

The attorney, representing residents suing Dow Chemical Co. over dioxin contamination, this week plans to file a rebuttal to what he calls "baseless accusations" from the company.

Dow attorneys have asked Saginaw County Chief Circuit Judge Leopold P. Borrello to reject several changes Helder has proposed to a lawsuit involving 179 Tittabawassee River residents.

They called the requests -- which would bump the number of litigants to more than 300 and narrow the pool of "class representatives" to the 26 original complainants -- an attempt to bury "bad facts."

Helder responded Wednesday.

"We are not trying to cover up anything," he said. "There is no need to cover up anything."

He said reducing the number of group representatives would make the case less cumbersome and avoid future delays. "It makes no sense to use the whole community as a sample of the community," he said. "It makes more sense to focus on the 26."

Dow attorneys are suspicious. They claim Helder is trying to exclude people who "have admitted that they have not been damaged at all" by dioxin and to cover up a litigant whose property lies on a former chemical plant.

Helder, in his motion, says the first statement is skewed and the second doesn't matter.

He said all residents, though not feeling emotional distress, have suffered a drop in property values. That is damage, he said. As for the resident on the former chemical plant, Helder said Dow still is to blame for polluting his property with dioxin.

Helder's motion also will challenge Dow's insistence that properties along the river are not "worthless."

Dow attorneys told Borrello this week that at least one family sold property for more than its appraised value. They said other houses are drawing appraisals "for significant values" and selling even though they are in a floodplain.

"Mr. Helder's allegation that property in the area is worthless is a disservice to area residents," said Dow spokesman Scot Wheeler. "That allegation simply isn't supported by the facts."

Helder stands behind his claim, saying every home along the river has lost value because of dioxin.

"Just because you spend $5,000 for a fake Rolex doesn't mean it is worth $5,000," he said. "We still believe this property is worthless, notwithstanding a transaction by a misinformed buyer."

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday. t

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

2003 Saginaw News

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