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Revealed: Honda and Expert Sanctioned for Destroying Key Evidence

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Press Release

TLPJ Wins Public Access to Scathing Court Decision 
Revealing Destruction of Evidence in Auto Safety Case

Public's First Amendment Rights Vindicated; Crash Victims No Longer
Barred from Challenging Credibility of Expert Witness 

Victims of auto crashes are no longer forbidden from seeing, discussing,
and questioning auto industry expert witness Robert Gratzinger about a
scathing court decision finding that Gratzinger and the American Honda
Motor Company (Honda) "deliberately" destroyed evidence in a high-stakes
auto safety case. The blistering court decision
http://w> , which sanctioned Honda for trying
to "win by cheating," was unsealed in a legal challenge by the national
public interest law firm Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ). The
decision finds Honda and Gratzinger "wrongfully and intentionally
altered the most significant physical evidence in the case."

"The public has the right to know about the unethical conduct exposed in
this decision," said TLPJ Staff Attorney Rebecca E. Epstein, who argued
the case. "People left in wheelchairs by crashes will no longer have to
sit in silence while Mr. Gratzinger testifies for Honda, Ford, Toyota,
and Mazda. We applaud Judge Garbolino's decision to end this untenable
and unjust situation."

The sanctions decision, issued on October 3, 2002, by Placer County
(California) Superior Court Judge James D. Garbolino, found that
Gratzinger had "deliberately" obliterated key evidence in Davis v.
Honda, a lawsuit based on a March 1999 accident in a Honda Civic that
left plaintiff Sarah Davis, then 17 years old, a quadriplegic. The court
found that by intentionally destroying marks showing that Davis had been
wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident - the "single most
critical issue" in the case - Honda had "attempted to rob" the plaintiff
"of her right to litigate on a level playing field." As a sanction, the
court held Honda liable for Davis's injuries and ruled the jury would
only decide how much in damages Honda paid Davis.

One week later, the parties settled the case and, to facilitate the
settlement, the court entered an order sealing and vacating the
sanctions decision. The extraordinary sealing order banned all
publication and sharing of the decision, and prohibited anyone from even
mentioning the sanctions decision in any legal proceeding. As a result,
automotive engineer Gratzinger has been shielded from questions about
his actions in Davis and has continued to serve as an expert witness for
automakers in crash cases around the country.

TLPJ's motion challenging the sealing order
P:/TLPJ Web Site/briefs/davis_motion_092005.pdf>  was granted on October
26, 2005, but the order granting it was mailed and just received. The
unsealing order vindicates the public's First Amendment rights and opens
the way for crash victims' attorneys nationwide to question Gratzinger's
credibility. The scathing sanctions decision in Davis, the sealing
order, TLPJ's motion challenging the sealing order, and the 7-page order
amending the sealing order
P:/TLPJ Web Site/briefs/Davis Order.pdf>  and making the sanctions
decision public can all be viewed on TLPJ's web site at
http://w> . 

TLPJ challenged the secrecy order on behalf of the Center for Auto
http://w> , a national consumer group that works to improve
automobile safety, and attorneys representing car crash victims in
Tennessee and Mississippi. Attorney Patrick M. Ardis of Wolff Ardis,
P.C., in Memphis, Tennessee, represents Bettye Maxwell in Maxwell v.
Ford Motor Company, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Maxwell's husband, who
was killed in an August 2001 crash in a Ford F150 pickup truck in DeSoto
County, Mississippi. Gratzinger was called as an expert witness in the
Maxwell case, but, because of the secrecy order, the presiding judge
prevented Maxwell's lawyers, including Ardis, from questioning
Gratzinger about his conduct in the Davis case. Attorney Lee T. Griffin
of Pajcic & Pajcic
http://w>  in Jacksonville, Florida, represents Todd Irish in
Irish v. Ford Motor Company, a lawsuit filed after Irish was rendered a
paraplegic as a result of a November 2002 accident involving his Ford
pickup truck. Gratzinger has been named an expert witness in the Irish
case as well.

"Because of this unsealing decision, the truth can now be known and
told," said Griffin. "If the defendants in our case continue to use Mr.
Gratzinger as an expert witness, the jury will now get to hear that this
man was found by a court to have intentionally destroyed key evidence in
a similar case."

TLPJ Cooperating Counsel Dina Micheletti of Fazio I Micheletti
http://w>  in Pleasanton, California, said, "We're delighted
that Judge Garbolino has affirmed the importance of protecting the
public's First Amendment right of access to court records. His
compassion for Sarah Davis and his outrage at the behavior of Honda's
expert witness and Honda itself are very evident in the unsealed
sanctions decision."

TLPJ's legal team also includes Jeffrey Fazio of Fazio I Micheletti,
TLPJ Executive Director Arthur H. Bryant, and TLPJ Brayton-Baron Fellow
Leslie A. Bailey. The challenge is part of TLPJ's Project ACCESS, a
15-year-old project against excessive court secrecy, and the group's new
Access to Justice Campaign
http://w> , a nationwide initiative to
keep America's courthouse doors open to all.

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Trial Lawyers for Public Justice is the only national public interest
law firm dedicated to using trial lawyers' skills and resources to
advance the public good. Founded in 1982, TLPJ utilizes a nationwide
network of more than 3,000 outstanding trial lawyers to pursue
precedent-setting and socially significant litigation. It has a
wide-ranging litigation docket in the areas of consumer rights, worker
safety, civil rights and liberties, toxic torts, environmental
protection, and access to the courts. TLPJ is the principal project of
The TLPJ Foundation, a not-for-profit membership organization. It has
offices in Washington, DC, and Oakland, CA. TLPJ's State Coordinators
for California are Ingrid Evans in San Francisco, tel. 415-677-1234; and
Sharon Arkin in Newport Beach, tel. 949-720-1288. The TLPJ web site
address is
http://w> .