Ailing Molloy restricts Locke testimony
Robert Locke was not allowed to include in his testimony the contested evidence consisting of memos discussing Monokote 5 and 6 and the summaries of Grace meetings from July 1 and 2, 1986. Judge Donald Molloy started the day with his ruling, and Locke took the stand with what evidence Molloy did allow.
Continually clearing his throat, Molloy said the Monokote and meeting evidence was confusing and would not get the court anywhere. He then invited the jury in, said he had caught something but would do his best to last another two days and joked that his gravelly voice was not the result of yelling at the lawyers.
With Locke on the stand, the prosecution introduced a number of letters and memos into evidence as the prosecution continued to try to prove a conspiracy to keep secret the health risks of some Grace products.
The first was a 1977 letter from Locke to his successor Fred Eaton about policies and ongoing activities of the construction products division. One item in the letter was labeled “Petition submittal.” Locke explained that referred to the Gregorio Act in California that required plant modifications and workers’ health monitoring for products containing tremolite. Locke said Grace was worried that California would find out about the tremolite in the Libby vermiculite so they hired George Clyde, a legislative lobbyist in California.
Another section of Locke’s letter listed the points why Grace should be excused from the requirements. One point read, “Vm (vermiculite) has ‘de minimum’ respirable tremolite.” Another read, “respirable tremolite is very different from commercial asbestos.” When asked about the points, Locke said the strategy was to get people so buried in words and sidetracked onto other subjects that they would drop the issue.
“Basically, we would try to talk them to death,” Locke said.
When asked what the second point meant, he said, “Our asbestos was different from real asbestos.”
Locke said that Grace would cite published articles but there weren’t very many at the time, and the ones that did exist showed tremolite posed little hazard. But none of those studies involved Libby tremolite. Prosecutor Kris McLean pointed out that Grace did have the hamster study that indicated Libby tremolite was hazardous and asked why Locke didn’t publish the results. Locke said it was confidential to Grace. Locke said Grace also didn’t like to publish Material Safety Data Sheets, documents that all chemical companies are supposed to publish describing the chemical composition of their products and any associated hazards.
Locke’s letter contained instructions about how to deal with inquiries from customers. The instructions indicated that Grace didn’t want customers getting excited and “calling everyone, including OSHA.” While Grace managers wanted to help their customers, they didn’t want any “documented evidence of specific internal problems they might have” because, Locke said, they didn’t want the liability transferred from the customer to Grace.
In a memo from Grace executive vice president Elwood “Chip” Wood that was cc’d to Locke, Jack Wolter and O. Mario Favorito, a table outlined words Grace should use with customers, depending on what product they were using and whether it came from South Carolina or Libby. For example, if the product was attic insulation and it came from Libby, the frequency of tremolite was labeled “sample contains tremolite,” and the phrase used to indicate the amount was “minute.”
In another section of the memo, “minute” was defined as less than 0.5 percent tremolite. McLean used Grace’s drop tests to show, over the objection of the defense, that samples with 0.5 percent tremolite would yield up to 5 fibers per milliliter of sample, an amount that exceeds the OSHA limit. During this time, as indicated by the memo, Wolter was chairman of the Grace Tremolite Committee.
Through a series of questions by McLean, Locke testified that he and the rest of the company knew as early as 1987 that Grace was going to close the Libby mine. Locke said they were going to close the mine because of the new regulations and because Grace had developed a new product that didn’t use the Libby ore.
In 1990, after the mine closed, Locke returned to the construction products division after being in another division for a few years. Back in Libby, he reported to Robert Bettacchi. Locke supervised Greg Poling, who was assigned as the contact person for the sales of Grace’s Libby property. In a memo from Poling to Bettacchi, which was cc’d to Locke and Favorito, there was mention of a transfer of liability from Grace to the potential buyer, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company or 3M.
Poling wrote, “In 1990, due to product reformulations and the decline in uses of vermiculite, Grace’s … Division ceased all mining…” McLean tried to ask Locke if that was his understanding of why the mine shut down, but Molloy sustained the defense’s objection.
McLean succeeded in introducing evidence for most of the morning as Molloy overruled a number of defense objections, but the prosecution ran into a snag when McLean tried to introduce the “letter of intent to buy” written by Favorito and intended for 3M.
Molloy excused the jury so they would not hear the ensuing debate. Defense attorney Thomas Frongillo claimed that Locke could not attest to the information since he had already testified that “there was no way” he was involved with Grace’s real estate transactions. Also 3M ultimately did not purchase the property. Molloy sustained the objection in a husky voice before recessing the court and slowly stepping down from the bench.
– Laura L. Lundquist (posted 12:30 p.m.)