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Wed October 30, 2002
Lead Paint Mistrial
By Kelly McEvers
Providence – Makers of lead paint dodged a legal bullet Tuesday. A judge declared a mistrial in the state's high-profile lawsuit against eight paing companies. A six person jury was deadlocked at four to two in favor of the defense
Jurors sent a note to Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein, saying they had een stuck since they first began deliberating last week. Silverstein declared a mistrial.
The state had hoped the jury would find that lead paint is a public nuisance that no Rhode Island Citizen should have to bear. Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse filed the suit three years ago. He said the sistrial ruling does not spell the end of the case.
it's certainly a delay in the course of
Justice said Whitehouse.
Whitehouse will have little say over the direction of the case. Voters next week choose a new attorney general. Both candidates said they would pursue the case.
Industry lawyers hesitated to claim victory after the mistrial ruling. Defense attorney John Tarantino spoke with jurors though and said he was encouraged to learn that four out of the six had sided with the defense.
I think this jury understood the issues. I'm confident that they understood the issues, and I'm confident that they came to the conclusion that the case that the attorney general put on was a case that the attorney general simply could not prove, said Tarantino.
The case was closely watched by states, cities and counties around the country that have filed their own suits against lead paint makers.
Michael Hotra with the Washington D.C. based American Tort Reform Association said the mistrial ight help curb aggressive attorneys general nationwide.
We call what Attorney General Whitehouse has done regulation by Litigation. We think if we're going to decide public policy matters, those matters belong in the legislature of Rhode Island, not in the courts.
Perhaps if they were able to see the human face of lead poisoning during this trial, we think the outcome might have been different. Instead it was presented in a rather abstract way. And that's the way the state was forced to proceed, said Robert Aranson of the Childhood Lead Action Project in Provicence.
The state has ten days to request a new trial. Attorney General Whitehouse said that request would be filed. What happens next will be up to the new attorney general.