Ford Motors and other corporate co-defendants
in an asbestos action pending in Cook County court have ended the push to
punish gasket maker John Crane Inc. and its lawyers for allegedly allowing plaintiffs’
lawyers to use it as a “shill” to allow such cases to remain in Cook County.
Now, lawyers for the Chicago-based JCI have asked a Cook County judge to also back off a potential unprompted request for untold amounts of documents related to thousands of
asbestos cases involving JCI in Cook and downstate Madison County, saying the
judge lacks the authority to order the discovery without a motion by a party
involved in the litigation.
On July 12, attorneys Thomas J. Cunningham and P. Russell
Perdew, of the firm of Locke Lord LLP, of Chicago, filed a motion on behalf of
JCI in Cook County Circuit Court, objecting to an order the objection said was
issued June 23, requiring JCI to “produce a vast amount of information
regarding other mesothelioma cases against JCI for the last 10 years.”
“No party has ever sought the information the Court now
seeks,” JCI’s lawyers wrote. “Thus, the Court has crafted its own discovery
requests, and directed those massively burdensome requests solely at JCI, just
as an aggressive opposing attorney would do.”
Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Lynch has presided in the
Last fall, lawyers for Ford asked the court to sanction John
Crane, the firm of O’Connell, Tivin, Miller & Burns, which had represented
JCI, and lawyers from the firm of Connelly & Vogelzang, of Chicago.
The sanctions request arose as JCI, Ford and other
defendants moved to conclude an asbestos liability lawsuit brought by
plaintiffs Bertha and Moses Winford against a number of companies. Other
defendants included Honeywell, Genuine Parts, Dana Companies and others who
routinely land on lists of defendants in cases in which plaintiffs alleged they
contracted mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos.
The litigation continued for about 20 months, until Lynch
ordered the case dismissed under settlement.
However, Lynch said he was retaining jurisdiction over the
case to consider the motions for sanctions brought by Ford and other
In those motions, Ford and others had alleged “gamesmanship”
on the part of Crane’s attorneys and those for plaintiffs, alleging the
Vogelzang lawyers installed Crane as a “straw man Illinois defendant” to
prevent the case from being removed to federal court and needlessly lengthening
They said OTMB used various tactics during the proceedings
as part of a long-running cooperation between them and the Vogelzang lawyers to
prevent the case from being dismissed, with an eye toward ultimately allowing
Crane to avoid paying damages.
JCI denied the allegations, and said the sanctions request
Lawyers for the co-defendants, however, have dropped those sanctions
requests, with Ford being the last to back off in May following an evidentiary
hearing and further briefings on the matter.
However, in late June, the court, acting “sua sponte” –
meaning, without a request from any of the parties in the case – proposed an order
requiring JCI to turn over potentially massive amounts of documents relating to
all of the asbestos exposure cases brought against it in Cook and Madison
counties over the past decade. JCI said the order potentially would involve
thousands of cases and is “much broader than what any party (in the case) has
In response to the proposed order, JCI said the record shows
no evidence of any of the alleged collusion among JCI, its lawyers and
plaintiffs’ lawyers, and “no basis for concluding JCI allows itself to be sued
because it faces no risk in asbestos cases.”
Further JCI argued the court would lack any “legal basis to
sanction JCI” or order the proposed discovery request, as Illinois court rules
do not allow such an order without a request from any of the other parties.
And, JCI said, the proposed discovery order would not
involve a “criminal contempt proceeding,” which, Crane said, should leave the
company and its lawyers free of the threat of such a bench-initiated discovery
JCI said a discovery order initiated by the judge would
leave the leave them arguing against the very judge who ordered the discovery
and would consider any of their requests for relief.
“In short, the Court has created an untenable role for
itself,” JCI wrote in its memorandum expressing its objections. “The Court cannot
remain impartial while targeting JCI for further proceedings that no party
wants and while demanding massive amounts of information from JCI that no party
has ever sought.”
Should the court proceed with the proposed discovery order,
Crane said it would seek to appeal the order to the Illinois Supreme Court for
review of what it said would be “an unlawful and burdensome order.”