MISSOULA – Jury selection has begun in the environmental crimes trial of W.R. Grace & Co.
Federal prosecutors accuse Grace and five of its one-time executives and managers of knowingly exposing Libby residents to asbestos fibers that have killed hundreds and sickened thousands. Grace officials argue there was no conspiracy and say most of the releases occurred years before the federal Clean Air Act was passed in 1990.
Opening arguments are scheduled to start Monday.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy interviewed some members of the 80-person jury pool Thursday, as he sought to seat a jury for the trial, which could last from three to five months.
Molloy quizzed potential jurors about their exposure to media coverage relating to the trial and explained that news coverage should never be considered as part of the jury’s deliberations.
“The case has to be decided on the evidence presented inside the courtroom, and not on what’s consumed outside the courtroom,” he said.
He dismissed six potential jurors by the end of the day, including a reporter for the Western News in Libby, who has written stories about the case.
Molloy agreed with potential jurors who complained about the $40 per diem, saying they could not afford to lose time at work.
“That is something that needs to be addressed by Congress,” he said. “They set the amount, and it’s an antiquated amount. And it does not reflect the work we ask you to do.”
Others were concerned about time away from their families.
“I just wouldn’t get to see my kids,” said one woman.
Molloy said the trial scheduled would likely involve alternating three- and four-day weeks.
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