Chemist Duecker replaces financial analyst Becker on stand
The last two defense attorneys finished their cross-examination of former Grace financial analyst James Becker on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean made his redirect, and the government called another witness to the stand to wrap up the morning.
Defense attorneys Stephen Spivack and Thomas Frongillo quickly established that Becker had nothing to say about their clients, Robert Walsh and Robert Bettacchi, as he left the company before getting to know either of them.
Frongillo then worked to cast doubt on two particularly damaging statements Becker was shown to have made during the government’s inquiry.
In one memo, Becker wrote that the costs of conforming to a proposed change in OSHA asbestos regulations would be “prohibitive.” At the time, existing OSHA regulations limited asbestos exposure level to five fibers/cc in the work place. Frongillo said that in 1975, a few months before Becker was hired, OSHA proposed a limit of 0.5 fibers/cc. But when the new regulations went into effect in 1976, the acceptable limit was placed at two fibers/cc. Frongillo asked whether Becker’s statement might have been referring to the stiffer proposed limit, and Becker agreed that it may have been the case.
In another memo, Becker discussed possible solutions to the health problems in Libby, including closing the mine and finding other minerals as alternatives to vermiculite. He was very clear to state that the memo reach only as many people as necessary, which the government tried to show as a piece of the Grace cover-up. With Frongillo’s questioning, Becker admitted that these details were kept quiet partly so as not to worry Libby miners about the far-off possibility of losing their jobs.
In redirect, McLean had difficulty shoring up his witness after undermining done by the cross-examination by parade of defense attorneys. With almost every question, the defense objected that McLean was merely re-stating his direct examination. Molloy sustained each of these objections, and at one point said, “remember, this is the redirect.”
After each sustained objection, the courtroom sat in silence as McLean pondered how to proceed. McLean was, however, able to score one hit against the defense in his redirect. In looking at a tally of Grace’s budget to decrease dust at the mine and in expansion plants around the country, evidence brought during cross-examination, McLean asked, “Do you see any mention of asbestos at all here?”
Molloy overruled a slew of objections, saying the document speaks for itself. A simple, “No,” ended Becker’s testimony.
Minutes before breaking for lunch, the government introduced former Grace research chemist Heyman Duecker to the stand. Hired in 1966, Duecker moved into the Construction Products Division in 1971, where he worked to develop vermiculite products until 1986. He remained with the company until his retirement in 1992.
– Alex Tenenbaum, posted 1:25 p.m.