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Legal Ethics

Judge Tosses Dole Pesticide Suits Due to Fraud and Lawyer Misconduct

Posted Apr 24, 2009 6:27 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Citing fraud and lawyer misconduct, a Los Angeles judge has tossed two consolidated lawsuits contending Dole pesticides caused sterility in Nicaraguan banana workers.

Judge Victoria Chaney said the fraud was so pervasive that the truth about the sterility claims may never be known, the Associated Press reports. She ruled after a court hearing Tuesday where she heard evidence that lawyers recruited impoverished men in Nicaragua to pose as plantation workers. One man said he attended seminars by the lawyers where he and others learned about plantation life and received fake work papers and study materials, the Daily Journal reports (sub. req.)

Workers said they were coached by a law firm with two lawyers: Nicaraguan lawyer Antonio Hernandez Ordenana and Los Angeles lawyer Juan Jose Dominguez, according to the Daily Journal story. Dominguez did not attend the hearing.

“What has occurred here is not just a fraud perpetrated on this court, but a blatant extortion of the defendants,” Chaney said. “I cannot in good conscience allow this case to continue.”

Witnesses, shown in videotaped depositions, said they feared their lives were in danger by coming forward to testify. The witnesses' faces and voices were disguised, according to the Daily Journal account.

Chaney had intended to try the two dismissed suits as bellwether cases to provide guidance in other actions, Bloomberg news reports. A third bellwether case has already been tried and resulted in a verdict that was reduced to $1.58 million. Chaney said she did not know what could be done about the first case, now on appeal.

Dole Food Co. lawyer Scott Edelman of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher told the Daily Journal that the “nightmare litigation" was like a John Grisham novel.

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