Oral arguments slated in battle to unseal Russell Budd’s testimony on asbestos memo

By David Yates | Mar 14, 2018

Editors note: The day after this article was published, Baron & Budd filed an unopposed motion to continue oral arguments for any date after April 14. 

HOUSTON – Next month, an appellate court will hear oral arguments on whether to unseal testimony given by renowned plaintiff’s attorney Russell Budd on the “Terrell memo.”

The Terrell memo, considered by some to be a “cheat sheet,” purportedly revealed how Baron & Budd attorneys coached up 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.

In late 2016, Christine Biederman, a Dallas lawyer and freelance journalist whose investigation is being followed by a documentary filmmaker, intervened in a two-decade old asbestos suit filed in Travis County, seeking to unearth the deposition of Budd, the current president of Baron & Budd -- a Dallas-based law firm specializing in toxic torts.

Biederman and Paul Johnson Films suspect the testimony has relevancy to ongoing asbestos litigation. The deposition could also be relevant to Johnson’s documentary “UnSettled,” a film seeking to cast light on the business of asbestos lawsuits.

Baron & Budd fought back against Biederman’s efforts to unseal and on Jan. 31, 2017, Judge Orlinda Naranjo, 419th District Court, ruled the court did not have jurisdiction over the case.

An appeal soon ensued and caught the attention of the state’s chief lawyer.

On Dec. 15, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the trial court erred and did in fact have jurisdiction to determine that Budd’s deposition was not properly sealed under Rule 76a of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

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.

Although the case in question is decades old, there’s a possibility Budd’s deposition could be relevant to the 2014 Garlock Sealing Technologies case, which exposed attorney “double-dipping” in bankruptcy asbestos trusts.

On March 13, the First Court of Appeals set the case for oral arguments on April 11, court records show.

Austin attorneys Charles Herring and Jason Panzer, malpractice lawyers who have counseled some of Texas’ most high-profile attorneys, represent Baron & Budd.

Biederman is also working with Paul Walter, Esq., attorney for the Jackson Walker law firm in Dallas.

Case No. 01-17-00263-CV

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