Jury selection to start soon for asbestos trial

It has been a little over a year since former Sonoma State professor Thomas Sargent filed a lawsuit against the university citing its “willful ignorance” regarding the asbestos contamination in Stevenson Hall.  Now, after numerous postponements, an anticipated trial date is set in the lawsuit involving Sargent and the Board of Trustees of the California State University for the week of Jan. 3.

Originally set to begin on July 29, the trial was postponed until late October, and, according to Sargent’s lawyer Dustin Collier, it was because of multiple continuances asked for by the defense attorneys.

As of right now, the two parties have briefed over 30 pre-trial motions with the next pretrial step being jury selection, which is scheduled to begin the week of Dec. 5. 

“The only reason we have not started the trial as scheduled on Oct. 28 is because of the Court’s calendar,” said Collier. “The Judge decided to delay jury selection until the end of November to use what little time she had that month to decide pretrial motions and those pre-trial motions have proven more voluminous than anticipated.”

The lawsuit began when Sargent, a certified asbestos consultant, claimed to have raised questions to the university about how asbestos was being managed in several buildings on campus. He then says he was forced to resign when he was retaliated against by his superiors.

Sonoma State has admitted to the presence of asbestos in multiple buildings on campus but denies it poses any health risks based on tests taken since January by RHP Risk Management. The university claims the asbestos dust levels found in the building have not contributed to elevated levels of airborne asbestos, the form in which health problems may occur. Collier does believe the week of Jan. 3 is a reliable one as to when the trial will begin but it is all dependent on the judge’s schedule, who will be taking a two week vacation at the end of December.

“Ultimately it is the judge’s call as she has many other cases to juggle as well,” said Collier. “What I can say is that there is no reason we should not be finished with all these pre-trial matters by that week.”