AUSTIN – Next Tuesday, a Texas district judge will hold a hearing on whether to unseal testimony that could unearth a list of asbestos cases connected with the arguably infamous “Terrell memo,” the widely reported on “cheat sheet” revealing how Baron & Budd clients were coached up before depositions.
Not too long ago, freelance journalist Christine Biederman intervened in a 24-year old asbestos suit filed in Travis County, seeking to unseal the deposition of renowned plaintiff’s attorney Russell Budd, president and managing shareholder of the Dallas-based Baron & Budd.
Biederman, who also moonlights as a documentary film producer, maintains the Baron & Budd asbestos case of Beverly Brown v. Keene Corp. et al began just as routine as the “thousands of other asbestos lawsuits filed over the past forty-plus years in the district courts of Travis County.”
“And then, in the fall of 1997, something extraordinary occurred,” Biederman’s motion states.
During a deposition in an unrelated asbestos lawsuit, a Baron & Budd associate accidentally produced a memo entitled ‘Preparing for Your Deposition,’ which appeared to coach the firm’s clients on how to identify asbestos products and exposures that they might not actually remember and might never have been exposed to in the first place.
The memo, which Baron & Budd alleged had been written by a paralegal named Lynell Terrell, was widely distributed by defense counsel, who began to conduct discovery into whether and how the memo had been used in hundreds of the firm’s asbestos cases, including Brown v. Keene, the motion states.
Biederman asserts the remaining existing court records in the Brown asbestos litigation show that at some point Baron & Budd was apparently ordered to produce a list of cases in which witnesses had been prepped using the Terrell memo.
Presumably in response, the firm filed a motion to seal court records on Sept. 29, 1997. Without a hearing, a protective order was entered that same day, which, among other provisions, commanded Budd to appear for a deposition in October of 1997.
“Finally, on information and belief, the Order restricted dissemination of Mr. Budd’s deposition to attorneys of record in this case,” the motion to unseal states.
“In so doing, the Court apparently declared Mr. Budd’s deposition ‘sealed,’ although whether the term was used in the Court’s September 29, 1997 Order, on the record during the deposition, or in both places is unclear.”
Biederman believes Budd’s deposition is relevant to issues in ongoing asbestos litigation – a topic she’s reported extensively on in the past and the current subject of her documentary film project.
“In this case, the deposition of Russell Budd contains information on how and under what circumstances the law firm of Baron & Budd used the Terrell memo and others like it, as well as how the memo was created and the source(s) of the information contained therein,” the motion states.
“As previously discussed, this information touches upon, among other topics, a ‘cheat sheet’ used by Baron & Budd’s lawyers and paralegals that appeared, and still appears, to help clients identify products and exposures that they might not actually remember and, in fact, might never have been exposed to.”
Biederman argues the “extraordinary requirements” of Rule 76a of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure were not met.
Rule 76a pertains to the sealing of court records. The rule states that a document may be sealed if the substantial interest clearly outweighs presumption of openness and any probable adverse effect that sealing will have upon the general public health or safety.
She is asking the court to declare Budd’s deposition to be a public record open to the general public.
Cause No. D-1-93-GN-010952