March 9, 2009 in Region

Grace trial delayed by juror’s illness

Associated Press
 
Trial coverage
University of Montana law and journalism students are covering the W.R. Grace trial via a blog.

MISSOULA — A juror’s illness delayed the W.R. Grace & Co. environmental crimes trial Monday but with the jury absent, defense lawyers sought to exclude the expert testimony of another government witness.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy excused jurors for the morning on Monday to determine whether an alternate juror would need to be selected, but told lawyers to meet back in the courtroom after lunch, the Missoulian newspaper reported on its Web site.

The Columbia, Md.-based global chemical company and five individual defendants filed a motion Sunday to exclude the expert testimony of Dr. Aubrey Miller, an investigator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a key witness for the prosecution.

The defense was successful earlier in limiting the testimony of another key witness, Paul Peronard, who served as EPA’s onsite coordinator in Libby after the town’s asbestos contamination came to light a decade ago.

Grace’s lawyers said Miller, as with Peronard, should not be allowed to discuss issues of public endangerment because “it does not fit the legal issue that the Government hopes to prove through its introduction at trial” — that the defendants placed others in imminent danger by causing releases of asbestos into the air after Nov. 3, 1999, the Missoulian reported.

The company and five one-time Grace officials are charged with a federal conspiracy involving Clean Air Act violations and obstruction of justice. The charges relate to whether the company and its top employees knew they were endangering the community of Libby by mining the asbestos-laced ore, and whether they did so in violation of federal law.

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