July 24, 2016

BNSF alleged to engage in ‘judicial misconduct’

“Over the past decade,” reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “court records show [that] judges around the country have disciplined BNSF after finding that the company or its lawyers broke rules aimed at ensuring fair legal proceedings in 13 cases involving collisions or workplace injuries.

 “From Minnesota to California, BNSF has drawn judicial penalties for misconduct,” reports the Star Tribune in a four-part investigative series. Links to all four parts of the series are found at the end of this article, along with BNSF’s response.

 The newspaper says judges have cited BNSF for “a range of actions, including destroying evidence and other obstructive discovery practices. In four of those cases, judges declared mistrials or ordered new trials after concluding the company or its attorneys engaged in misconduct.”

 The Star Tribune quotes BNSF officials as “strongly” denying allegations that BNSF “has attempted to thwart the legal system in lawsuits over deaths or injuries related to the railroad’s operations.”
BNSF attorney Charles Shewmake told the Star Tribune that “litigation is an adversarial process where both sides try hard to win. Occasionally, Shewmake said, attorneys on both sides break the rules.”

 BNSF launched a dedicated webpage Dec. 5 to refute the Star Tribune’s allegations, saying:

 “Criticisms of our conduct in court occurred in a miniscule fraction of a percent of the cases involving our railroad over the past decade. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has chosen to focus on those very few cases to falsely portray BNSF as not committed to safety and ethical conduct when our overall record plainly refutes this. The Star Tribune also has failed to fairly report on the extent to which plaintiffs’ counsel and plaintiffs themselves have been sanctioned by the courts.”

 The Star Tribune did report that “BNSF has complained repeatedly about plaintiffs’ attorneys abusing the legal system by making burdensome demands for evidence and deposition testimony. In June, a federal judge in Seattle was so irritated at a noted Minneapolis rail attorney in an injury case brought by a BNSF worker that he ordered him to explain why he shouldn’t be disqualified from representing the worker,” reported the newspaper.

 The Star Tribune recalled that in 2004, the New York Times reported on other railroads alleged to have “engaged in cover-ups to hide their responsibility for rail crossing accidents.” That 2004 series, written by Walt Bogdanich, assistant editor of the Times’ investigative desk, won a Pulitzer Prize — the third Pulitzer Prize won by Bogdanich for investigative reporting.

 To read Part 1 of the Minneapolis Star Tribune series, click on the following link:


 To read Part 2 of the Minneapolis Star Tribune series, click on the following link:


 To read Part 3 of the Minneapolis Star Tribune series, click on the following link:


 To read Part 4 of the Minneapolis Star Tribune series, click on the following link:


 To read the BNSF response, click on the following link: