Judge in Alaska Airlines lawsuit rejects meeting request

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2001

SEATTLE (AP) -- The judge overseeing lawsuits stemming from the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 says he won't meet with defendants privately to discuss a settlement.

U.S. District Judge Charles Legge of San Francisco said Monday that such a meeting, requested by the airline, would be inappropriate while he considers whether the relatives of the crash victims may seek punitive damages and other issues.

Legge also said he plans to retire in June to join a private arbitration and mediation service but would rule first on punitive damages, the amount of pretrial discovery the defendants must provide plaintiffs and whether to allow damages for the victims' pain and suffering.

Unless a settlement is reached sooner, another judge would be assigned to the case.

Legge wouldn't elaborate on the reasons for rejecting the meeting request by Alaska Airlines lawyer Mark Dombroff.

All 88 people aboard the MD-83 died on Jan. 31, 2000, when the plane bound from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle crashed into the ocean Port Hueneme, Calif. Five of the passengers were from Alaska.

Dombroff wrote Legge in March that the West Coast regional carrier wanted to make settlement offers promptly but faced resistance from two other defendants, Trig Aerospace of Santa Ana, Calif., and Shell Oil.

Trig acquired a company that built a jackscrew which controls the up and down movement of the horizontal stabilizer on the tail of the plane, a key part in the crash probe. Shell's grease was used on the jackscrew.

Both companies rejected the airline's offer to pay compensatory damages on condition that the company could later press claims against other defendants. The offer has been accepted by the Boeing Co., the fourth defendant, which purchased the maker of the plane, McDonnell Douglas.

Dombroff's letter seeking a private meeting with Legge and representatives of the other three defendants was strongly criticized by lawyers for the victims' families who said it could threaten the judge's impartiality.

They also noted that Dombroff had written a book saying settlement talks could be used to soften a judge.

In a letter to Legge, Trig objected to the meeting request. Shell did not comment.

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