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Activists pleased with ruling

| July 18, 2007 12:00 AM

By CAROL HOLOBOFF

The Western News

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the decision Thursday to overturn a Missoula judge's decision to bar witnesses from testifying against W.R. Grace & Co. A tentative court date of Sept. 3 has been set for the trial in Missoula against W.R. Grace & Co., the company made famous for allegedly hiding documentation of asbestos contamination from vermiculite mining in the Libby area.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy was incorrect in his decision to ban several witnesses from testifying and prohibit certain documents from being used in the trial. Norita Skramstad, widow of Les Skramstad, an asbestos activist who died in January, said the news that Judge Molloy's rulings were overturned sounds good, but if the trial goes back to the same judge she doesn't think the government will win.

"Les was determined that no one, no matter how big they are or how important they are, should be above the law," she said.Although she hopes Grace and the executives charged will be held responsible for their crimes, she said she will be surprised if it turns out that way.

Gayla Benefield, another leading activist in the long fight against W. R. Grace, said she is hopeful that justice will prevail. "The appellate court decision is a big step forward for the victims of the Libby asbestos disaster but now it is up to the jury," she said. Gayla said that a conviction will bring closure for a lot of people, who believe like Les did, that people have the right to go to a court system that will prosecute criminals.

She said the technicalities and the enormity of this case could have a huge impact on future asbestos cases everywhere.