Defense: Testimony Against Grace is Self-Serving

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – In an argumentative cross-examination, the lead defense counsel for W.R. Grace & Co. suggested a key government witness has a personal ax to grind in claiming corporate malfeasance by Grace.

Robert Locke was a global vice president of Grace’s construction products division. He left the company in 1998 under antagonistic circumstances and has a lawsuit pending against his former employer.

Attorney David Bernick said Wednesday that Locke’s testimony and his cooperation with the government were self-serving, the Missoulian newspaper reported on its Web site.

“You’re a Harvard MBA. You have personal knowledge about the facts in this case. You have a lawsuit of your own against Grace, and you have volunteered evidence in this case against Grace,” Bernick said. “Correct?”

“Yep. It was time to stand up and do the right thing,” Locke said.

“You’re part of a case that you would very much like to see prosecuted to success, right?” Bernick said.

“I can’t answer that question without an explanation. You’re putting a spin on this,” Locke said.

Locke testified that Grace sought to stymie a government investigation into the health effects of asbestos-laced vermiculite mined in Libby. He also said Grace knew about the hazardous conditions at the mine, and that he urged them to devise an exit strategy for Libby.

Locke described a proposal between Grace and 3M, a company interested in buying the mine. The transaction stalled when Grace insisted that 3M assume any liabilities related to the mine site. The sale eventually fell through, which led to increased concern among top officials, Locke said.

“I had bad vibes about the site from a liability standpoint,” he said.

Columbia, Md.-based Grace and five one-time company officials are charged with endangering the community of Libby by mining asbestos-laced ore, and doing so in violation of federal law.

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