Law: Megacourtroom

The scene looked more like a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly than a civil trial, as San Francisco's Nourse Auditorium last week became the largest courtroom in memory. Dozens of lawyers at 28 counsel tables appeared before California Judge Ira Brown at the start of what could be an 18-month megatrial. At issue is who should bear the cost of asbestos-related lawsuits; 25,000 of them have been filed against some 30 companies, mostly by former workers ill with cancer and lung disease associated with breathing in asbestos fibers. In the San Francisco case, five former asbestos manufacturers--the largest being the...

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