Judge in Asbestos Trial Steps Down

Tuesday, August 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) — A judge removed himself from the trial of asbestos-injury lawsuits because of a job offer he received from plaintiffs' attorney Peter Angelos, the majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

Retired Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti's decision to step down brought the trial to an abrupt end and means the cases will be retried.

Angeletti, one of five judges assigned to clear a backlog of asbestos claims, had earlier denied two motions by defendant ACandS Inc. that he disqualify himself and declare a mistrial.

His decision on Monday came after defense lawyers in a separate asbestos case asked a state appeals court to order an inquiry into Angelos' offer.

In announcing the reversal, Angeletti said his ``impartiality has been brought into question.'' He would not comment further.

Angelos has denied that he made the job offer in an attempt to make Angeletti look more favorably upon asbestos plaintiffs.

Angeletti said Angelos, who has made millions suing asbestos companies, offered him a position on June 23 but then withdrew it a week later. Angeletti did not disclose the offer to defense lawyers until July 11, the day after the trial began.

Angelos has said that he made a ``very substantial'' offer for Angeletti to head his office's pursuit of lawsuits against lead paint manufacturers. He said he withdrew the offer when it became clear Angeletti would continue to hear asbestos cases even though he had retired.

Angelos' firm represents about three-quarters of the plaintiffs in pending cases.

Neither Angelos nor the attorneys handling the trial for his firm returned calls for comment.

Allan Sobel, director of the Chicago-based American Judicature Society, said it was highly unusual for a judge to deny a motion for removal at the beginning of a lengthy trial and then grant the motion as the trial was ending.

``Obviously, the parties incurred substantial expenses in spending the additional time in trial, only to have — in effect — a mistrial declared,'' Sobel said.

A spokeswoman for the state judiciary system said Monday that the judge had no other pending assignments.