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Asbestos Bill Flies Out of Senate to an Uncertain Fate in the House

A late-filed bill favored by supremely influential Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos sailed through the state Senate Wednesday without debate or dissent.

The bill, to create an Office of Asbestos Case Mediation and Resolution within the executive branch of state government, passed by a 44-0 vote. The idea behind the legislation is to make a dent in the backlog of more than 30,000 lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers in Maryland.

Angelos’ law firm, which handles thousands of legal cases of blue-collar workers who got sick or worse from their exposure to asbestos, has been lobbying for the bill, which was introduced just last week.

The legislation now heads to the House, where its biggest obstacles are time – the General Assembly session ends on Monday – and the reluctance of House Judiciary Chair Luke V. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) to move quickly on a complicated subject.

“I’m going to talk to the committee and get their temperature on it,” Clippinger told Maryland Matters Wednesday night.

He said he wanted to balance the interests of the plaintiffs and their attorneys, who have been frustrated by the growing backlog of lawsuits; the defense attorneys who want to make sure their clients receive due process; and the judicial branch, which wants to maintain its ability to be “the referee.”

Clippinger said he also wanted to determine how many of the 30,000 backlogged cases are active – and filed by people who have been sickened or who died from mesothelioma – versus those that are prospective.

“Part of me is trying to get a sense of what the numbers actually are,” he said.

While Clippinger had not spoken to his Judicial Committee colleagues about the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), he said he had read it. Asked for his quick take on the bill, Clippinger replied, “I try not to deal with legislation with my gut.”

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