• Judge, citing fraud, throws out $2.3 million Dole verdict Friday, July 16, 2010

    This is one of the weirder cases bouncing through the courts, and it tracks like a John Grisham novel.

    DoleCalifornia 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Victoria G. Chaney on Thursday threw out a $2.3 million jury verdict against Dole over its use of a pesticide in Nicaragua, filed by workers who said they had suffered sterility and other health issues. The pesticide, DBCP, has been banned in the U.S. but Dole allegedly continued using it in Nicaragua.

    Chaney oversaw the original case three years ago, and since then Dole has been aggressive in pushing allegations that the case was based on fraud concocted among the attorneys in the U.S. and Nicaragua, and the workers. It even went after a Swedish filmmaker over a project delving into the controversy. Chaney found merit in Dole’s allegations last year, tossing out some pending suits and setting in motion the events that led to Thursday’s overturn of the original jury verdict.

    There’s more at stake than just this verdict. Dole faces some $2 billion in damages from verdicts in related cases in Nicaragua, and other cases are pending in Florida.

    The twist: Chaney’s decision was based on testimony by 27 witnesses who said the case against Dole was orchestrated and based on fraud. The witnesses’ identities have been kept secret after Chaney said she was persuaded that they faced possible violence in Nicaragua — a decision that has frustrated the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

    One of the lawyers, Steve Condie, told the Los Angeles Times in June that Dole was impeding the plaintiffs’ efforts to look into the secret witnesses’ allegations, which he had earlier argued were¬† made in return for cash payments by Dole.

    “Every time I’m on the verge of getting new evidence, they bring up witness safety,” Condie told the Times. “I don’t think there was any threatening statement about anybody.”

    So we have a case of local farmworkers alleging abuse by an international corporation, accusations of lies and perjury on both sides, uncertain threats to unidentified workers and billions of dollars at stake. The only thing keeping this from hitting the big screen is a chase scene.

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