CHARLES TALBERT: Taking Charge
These are desperate times for asbestos defense lawyers. We are accustomed
to fending off the usual boilerplate motions and briefs that typically
get lobbed at us when we file a lawsuit. But this beats `em all. A defense
lawyer in Anchorage, Alaska has motioned the Court in Anchorage to disqualify
me on grounds that I was "impolite." Specifically, I referred
to another lawyer during a deposition as "Bubba."
Now let's get this straight. I represent 46 men from the Asbestos Workers
Local 97 and Pipefitters Local 367 in Anchorage, Alaska. This is the first
asbestos lawsuit filed in Alaska, a state which according to legend is
inhabited by rugged pioneers, trappers, miners and assorted tough guys.
I'm in town to take the deposition of Charles Talbert, a former pipefitter
with mesothelioma. As a side note, when Charles came to Alaska in 1948,
the City of Anchorage consisted of two muddy streets and a brothel. You'd
imagine the language would have to get pretty rough to offend the local
In truth, the deposition was rough -- but not for the 20 asbestos company
lawyers sitting around the table in the Pipefitter's Union Hall. It
was rough for Charles Talbert. Charles had been advised by the best and
the brightest surgical oncologists from Harvard that he was not a candidate
for surgical resection of his tumor. Charles, no stranger to adversity,
did not skip a beat. He simply began searching for clinics that might
offer non-conventional treatments. He settled on a clinic in the Bahamas.
Charles had decided to leave Alaska for the Bahamas soon after his deposition.
Before the deposition began, I notified the defense counsel of Mr. Talbert's
need for treatment and travel plans. The defense lawyers proceeded to
turn a four hour deposition into a three day saga. Along the way, tempers
flared. At one point, an obviously well fed lawyer threatened to call
the judge over some petty matter, to which I responded off the record
(in so many words), "Listen Bubba, you're a big boy. If you can't
work it out and need to call the Judge, go right ahead."
Hardly the type of speech that runs afoul of the First Amendment. I call
some of my best friends "Bubba." It has an endearing sort of
resonance about it. On a more serious note, it's getting harder to
explain the ways of thin-skinned, technocratic, rulebook readers -- the
type of lawyers who would elevate form over substance and use the procedural
rules to thwart the pursuit of justice rather than facilitate it. As usual,
instead of addressing the issues on the merits, the asbestos companies
want to attack the victims and their lawyers.
After his deposition, Charles spent six weeks at the IAT Clinic in the
Bahamas. I wish I could report that he was cured. But on his return to
Anchorage, he was evaluated by his pulmonary doctor. The tumor has grown
in size. Charles' weight has dropped from 202 lbs. in March to 165
lbs. in September. He has begun to experience pain.
The trial court in Anchorage set his case for trial in July, 1997, despite
the testimony of his doctor that Mr. Talbert's prognosis is poor.
His doctor recommended that the trial be set immediately. This will be
the first asbestos trial ever in the State of Alaska.
Charles Talbert died on December 9, 1996. He was surrounded by his five
sons, each of which are union pipe fitters who live and work in and around