By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Doherty is seeking damages for his clients equal to the amount that the three attorneys estimated they would get for them from the toxic tort case. In some cases, that is as much as several million dollars.
"All my clients are saying is, 'You're right. You scared the hell out of me. I believed you and you sold me out,'" Doherty contends. "It's a fair assumption that they're still confused and still afraid of what the future holds for their health. The mental anguish their attorneys caused them is still having an effect."
The great majority of the 850 clients, however, have apparently gotten over their mental anguish. One of them is Ray Christensen, a 69-year-old World War II veteran who says doctors have told him he might have prostate cancer. He already has congestive heart failure, an illness that also afflicted his father, who lived in Colorado his whole life and died in an auto accident.
It was Christensen's heart condition that got him into the lawsuit, even though doctors told him the plant didn't cause the illness. He figures he got a good deal with the settlement. He doesn't plan to sue his former attorneys.
"We got enough to buy another home free and clear, and that's what we wanted," Christensen says. "We didn't expect some huge sum of money. Some felt they should have gotten more. There was an attitude of greed from some people."
Karen Sue Son did not accept the settlement. She was infuriated by its terms, which included the return to Celanese of all the documents that supposedly proved the company had poisoned the environment around Pampa. It also stipulated that no client would file another lawsuit against Celanese, even if they could prove the plant had made them sick. That was unacceptable to Son, who fears for the health of her two young daughters and her neighbors.
"When they sold those documents back and nobody else can talk about it, it's like it's been all covered up," Son says. "I mean, what's the truth? Are we really in danger here, or is it just something that Upchurch and them just concocted? I really think there is a problem, but Celanese is getting away with it. And my lawyers helped them do it."
Bill Kilgarlin, the lawyer who was the special master in the case, agrees with Son on one point: that for all the time, trouble and effort that went into the suit, no one ever discovered the one thing that matters: the truth.
"As far as I'm concerned, any money that Hoechst Celanese paid was a pure gift, based on the evidence that I heard," says Kilgarlin. "There were several Down syndrome cases, and my heart goes out to them. But I have yet to hear any evidence relating chemical toxicity to Down syndrome. If they had it, they didn't present it."
Son would seem to be a perfect candidate to join Doherty's malpractice action against the three attorneys. But that suit also alleges that the toxic tort case was a fraud. Son, after meeting with Doherty, was informed that he was not interested in having her as a client. Son says Doherty told her that she wouldn't be able to trust him.
Doherty says he just made a "professional decision" not to represent Son. But he acknowledges that there's "no dissension amongst my clients" -- meaning they all agree the lawsuit against Celanese was frivolous.
Maybe it was, says Ray Christensen, and maybe it wasn't. But another lawsuit won't prove anything, he says. It just keeps the toxic tort case alive, a prospect that reminds Christensen of something his grandfather once told him.
"If you leave a manure pile alone, at some point it won't stink anymore," he recites. "But if you dig into it, all you're going to do is stir up the stink again.
"These people digging into this again, they're not going to get anything but a bad odor.