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Judge denies sick woman’s motion for speedy trial

Deborah Clark, who grew up in northeast Oregon, has late-stage thyroid cancer. Her lawyers hope to fast-track her trial because of the advanced stage of her illness. (J. BART RAYNIAK)

A judge today denied a sick woman’s motion for an expedited trial in the long-running Hanford “downwinders” lawsuits.

U.S. District Court Judge William F. Nielsen said he sympathized with plaintiff Deborah Clark, who has late-stage thyroid cancer, but felt it wasn’t appropriate to take her case out of sequence.

But Nielsen approved attorney Richard Eymann’s motion to take a “preservation deposition” of Clark’s 87-year-old mother, Betty Hiatt, over defense objections. Hiatt is expected to provide additional information about Clark’s milk diet as a baby and young child.

Hanford dispersed radioactive iodine-131 into the air throughout portions of eastern Oregon and Washington during World War II and the Cold War. The iodine, discharged from a reactor making plutonium for atomic bombs, raised thyroid cancer risks for 16,000 infants and small children who drank milk from cows eating contaminated grass, a government study concluded years later.

Revelations of the emissions triggered lawsuits against the private contractors who operated Hanford, and Clark is one of about 1,600 plaintiffs.

Eymann filed a motion asking for an expedited jury trial within the next five months to resolve Clark’s case before she dies.

While turning down that motion, the judge on Wednesday agreed that Clark’s case should be included among 52 thyroid cancer plaintiffs being selected for mediation this year. The rest of those cases will be chosen by computer at random from sick people represented by three plaintiffs’ attorneys.

In addition, 30 plaintiffs with auto-immune diseases and hypothyroidism have been randomly selected for a new trial next spring before Nielsen.

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