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Record $322M Asbestos Verdict Thrown Out by Miss. Judge

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on January 05, 2012 1:32 PM

A state judge has vacated a $322 million Mississippi asbestos verdict --& the largest single-plaintiff asbestos award in history.

The ruling comes just two months after defense attorneys asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to disqualify Judge Eddie Bowen from the case. Soon after the jury announced its award, defendants Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Union Carbide learned that Bowen's parents had previously sued them over asbestos-related matters.

This connection probably should have disqualified Bowen from the start.

Defense attorneys asked Judge Bowen to toss out the Mississippi asbestos verdict and step down from the case, reports the Associated Press. But when he failed to answer, they took their request to the state's highest court. That court disqualified him and appointed a different judge.

The new judge vacated the verdict and award last week, reports the Wall Street Journal. Though the order doesn't say why he did so, the reasons can be implied from the surrounding circumstances.

Judges are obligated to disclose any potential conflicts of interests. If a judge believes that he cannot act impartially, he must recuse himself from the case. Sometimes, even the appearance of impropriety can warrant a recusal.

Judge Eddie Bowen claims that he was unaware his parents had been involved in asbestos litigation against the defendants, notes the Wall Street Journal. But the Associated Press reports that Bowen was a practicing attorney at the time of at least one filing. One suit is also still pending.

The judge arguably should have known about the connection.

Whether he did or not is now irrelevant. He was disqualified by the state supreme court, which will likely uphold the new judge's decision to toss out the Mississippi asbestos verdict.

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