Judges to Review Panel’s Ruling in Libby Asbestos Case

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – A 15-judge federal appeals court panel will review a smaller panel’s decision that reversed a number of pretrial rulings in the government’s asbestos case against W.R. Grace & Co.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco announced the review Monday. A date has not been set.

The case involves public exposure to asbestos in the Libby area, where Grace used to operate a mine.

In September, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed or revised six decisions handed down last year by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula. Decisions included Molloy’s ruling that federal prosecutors could not allege Grace and former top officials conspired to “knowingly endanger” miners and residents of Libby by exposing them to asbestos.

Grace attorneys said earlier this month that they planned to request a rehearing on the panel’s ruling. The company had until Nov. 5 to submit documents arguing the panel erred in its findings.

A 2005 indictment charged Grace and seven of its former managers, one of whom died in February, with conspiring to conceal health risks posed years ago by the company’s Libby vermiculite mine, closed since 1990. Hundreds of people in Libby have fallen sick from exposure to asbestos in vermiculite, and some have died.

Besides reviving the knowing endangerment charge, the three-judge panel reversed decisions that would have narrowed the definition of asbestos, disallowed certain evidence and limited the materials available to expert witnesses at trial.