Reinstate the DuPont verdict

By The SE Texas Record | Mar 21, 2009

It's been nearly a year since the well-connected Glen Morgan suffered defeat on home court.

The mega-rich local asbestos lawyer probably felt he couldn't lose an asbestos lawsuit against chemical giant DuPont. Then he did in front of an unimpressed jury.

He had asked for billions, blaming Willis Whisnant's sickness on the company. The jury awarded him zilch.

Morgan blamed this newspaper for his loss. And that's why we're still writing about the case.

Showing a pro-plaintiff attitude remarkable even for Beaumont, Judge Donald Floyd quickly vacated the jury verdict and granted Morgan a new trial.

Judge Floyd didn't say it--he didn't say anything--but the ruling, in effect, agreed with the super lawyer's reasoning which we consider unreasonable.

Morgan would have won if it hadn't been for those meddling journalists, seemed to be the point.

The second Morgan v. DuPont trial was supposed to start last month but it's on hold while the Texas Supreme Court reviews the case. DuPont has asked the higher court to enforce the original jury verdict, negating what some call a judicial gift to Morgan.

DuPont's petition for writ of mandamus filed with the Supreme court argues Floyd didn't give a legal reason for granting a new trial other than "because I said so." It also asks the justices to consider whether "the mere presence of newspaper accounts of a trial is a 'communication to the jury' that justifies a new trial."

Allowing Judge Floyd's decision to exist as a possible precedent is a danger to free speech and open government in Texas. If it stands, plaintiff's lawyers surely will cite the case when seeking to muzzle reporters covering trials or lawsuits.

As our thousands of weekly readers know, Texas needs more coverage of its courts by local journalists--not less. Allowing other Glen Morgans to argue such legal hogwash to harass news organizations will have an Antarctic-like chilling effect.

The High Court needs to recognize the magnitude of the DuPont case. They should reinstate the verdict and rebuke Judge Floyd's overreach of power.

A threat to a free press is a threat to all.

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