Legal Pad caught up with John Barg, who was defense counsel for Union Pacific Railroad in a 4 1/2-month-long toxic torts trial in Sonoma County Superior Court that, after only two hours of jury deliberation, resulted in a defense verdict earlier this month.
“I’ve tried over a hundred cases,” said Barg, a founding partner of Barg Coffin Lewis & Trapp. “I’ve never tried one that lasted this long.”
The plaintiffs — residents of a Santa Rosa neighborhood — were asking for $600 million in damages, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported, contending that their drinking water had been contaminated with chemicals from properties owned by United Pacific Railroad and JDS Uniphase. Barg said the defense argued that the contamination in the wells stemmed instead from nearby dry cleaning businesses.
It was the second time Barg tried the case, which has ricocheted through various legal ups and downs over the years. The first trial was declared a mistrial after two weeks, the newspaper reported, and Sonoma Superior Court Judge Allan Hardcastle ordered $2 million in sanctions against the plaintiffs attorneys, which the First District appeal court overturned last year.
Barg gave his closing argument on Sept. 15. The next day was a court closure day, and then on the 17th, jurors got their final instructions and deliberated for two hours before returning the 11-1 defense verdict.
“These toxic tort cases can be difficult for defendants, especially where we have plaintiffs whose wells unquestionably were contaminated,” Barg said. “There’s no question that they had contamination in their drinking water. The only question was, where did it come from?”
— Kate Moser