DUPONT: "CHEATING CONSCIOUSLY, DELIBERATELY"
In 1996 U.S. District Judge Robert Elliott fined DuPont $115 million as a civil sanction for not turning over the data that showed soil treated with its Benlate DF had become contaminated by an ultratoxic class of herbicides manufactured by DuPont known as sulphonylureas, or SUs. DuPont's withholding of the test data, he ruled, amounted to "cheating consciously, deliberately and with purpose ... to commit a fraud."
The ruling stemmed from a 1993 case, known as Bush Ranch after the lead plaintiff and was one of more than 500 suits then pending nationwide alleging that soil treated with Benlate DF destroyed growers' plants and crops. The case was settled during the trial after an environmental consultant hired by DuPont testified that soil samples taken from the Georgia growers and tested by an independent laboratory showed no traces of contamination by SUs. The settlement prompted hundreds of other growers to settle also.
Later it was learned after the Bush Ranch settlement that DuPont and its outside lawyers at the Atlanta firm Alston & Bird gave plaintiffs only a summary of the test results. Underlying data, including initial readings of some samples that plaintiffs contend supported their claims, were withheld.
It was then that Judge Elliott fined DuPont only to see his decision overturned a year ago after he Elliott was removed from the case by the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The appeals panel found that the fine amounted to a criminal penalty for what was a civil infraction and was thus impermissible. But the panel said DuPont and its lawyers "may very well have engaged in criminal acts."
Acting on that advice U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson in November 1998 ordered a criminal investigation of DuPont Co. for possible obstruction of justice instructing federal prosecutors in Macon, Georgia to begin criminal contempt proceedings within 60 days, if warranted, against the company and "any persons, whether litigants, witnesses, lawyers or otherwise," whose conduct during the trial "was such as to obstruct the administration of justice." DuPont, based in Wilmington, Del., discontinued the fungicide in 1991.
Source: The AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER Issue # 11 November 28, 1998
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness From a Public Interest Perspective
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