Special Reports

Tallevast trial set for Oct. 2010

BRADENTON — A trial date has been set for one of the Tallevast well contamination cases filed in 2005.

In a court hearing Tuesday, Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan set Oct. 11, 2010, as the first day of a trial to determine the liability of Lockheed-Martin in the contamination of drinking water wells in the southern Manatee County community.

Dunnigan also went through a calendar of possible pre-trial court hearing dates that both plaintiff and defense attorneys agreed would work for them.

“I’m giving them (the multiple dates) now because by the time you need them in 2010, they will not be available,” she said.

The residents of the predominately black community are claiming Lockheed is liable for the damage caused by an underground plume of toxic waste beneath an old beryllium plant it owned on Tallevast Road.

Kent Whittemore, one of the attorneys for the more than 270 people suing the Maryland-based company, said the two sides have agreed on a substantial number of issues, but needed the judge’s help in resolving several other points, including the right to name the plaintiffs who will be called to testify.

Whittemore wanted full say in who he will use to make his case during the trial, while the Lockheed legal team, led by Clifford Zatz, said the defense should have a right to participate in that decision.

Zatz said the defense wanted to achieve a trial that is representative of the entire group of complainants.

The plaintiff attorneys could pick only people from one class, where the defense would be looking for residents with different circumstances, such as how far they lived from the beryllium plant or whether they were using well water, he said.

Dunnigan said that issue did not have to be decided Tuesday, and encouraged the attorneys to try to work out their differences before she has to get involved.

To get the judge up to speed on the case, Whittemore provided an overview of the issues.

He said the plaintiffs were seeking damages based on two points, loss of property value and emotional distress.

“That is why this may be a little shorter than the case with the medical issues,” Whittemore said.

Dunnigan also encouraged the two sides to continue to talk and to try mediation or arbitration.

“My feeling is that you should mediate early and often,” the judge said.

Both Whittemore and Zatz indicated the two legal teams were amicable to mediation.

If mediation fails and the case goes to trial, Zatz was concerned with a limited number of people available for the jury who would not be biased by media publicity.

Dunnigan asked if he was thinking of a change-of-venue motion, and Zatz said it may be something to consider.

The judge worked with the attorneys on deciding 500 people will be needed for the jury pool.

She wanted the attorneys to work out the questions for potential jurors for her approval by July 2010.