Grace: Judge OKs Limited Testimony by Key Witness

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A federal judge said Wednesday he will allow the expert testimony of a key government witness in the case against W.R. Grace & Co., but is limiting his testimony to a few distinct areas.

The Missoulian newspaper reported the ruling on its Web site.

The ruling involved testimony to be offered by Paul Peronard, the Environmental Protection Agency’s onsite coordinator in Libby when the town’s asbestos contamination gained national attention in November 1999. Peronard coordinated the federal government’s emergency asbestos remediation of the town.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that Peronard could offer expert testimony and opinions about his role coordinating the Libby cleanup; but he said Peronard could not testify about a range of science and medical issues federal prosecutors had hoped to introduce with Peronard on the stand.

Molloy said the government had enough expert witnesses to address those issues as the trial progresses.

Prosecutors may not rely on Peronard as “a conduit to synthesize all of the government’s various scientific evidence, or to offer an overarching opinion on the government’s theory of endangerment,” Molloy told the parties.

Molloy said the ruling did not preclude Peronard from presenting opinions relevant to his role as onsite coordinator.

“Obviously he is one of the pre-eminent experts for onsite coordination in the entire nation, including expertise in addressing environmental concerns,” Molloy said. “He is not an expert scientist in risk assessment, toxicology or mineralogy.”

Government prosecutors had hoped to establish Peronard as an expert in precisely those fields but the defense, seeking to narrow the scope of Peronard’s testimony, argued his lack of qualifications — including his relative inexperience dealing with asbestos prior to the Libby cleanup — prevented him from testifying as an expert.

Grace and five former company 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 asbestos-laced vermiculite and whether they did so in violation of federal law.

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