Kennemetal wants dropped from whistleblower's 1992 lawsuit

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A baby born the day that former Kennametal attorney and congressional whistleblower Marianne Gasior sued the Latrobe tool maker and several of its high-ranking executives is now old enough to have a drink legally.

However, Ms. Gasior's lawsuit -- and a countersuit filed against her the same year by Kennametal -- have not made as much progress.

Both 1992 lawsuits remain on the books. Until recently, the most significant movement came in 1995, when a Pennsylvania Superior Court judge overturned a lower court ruling that transferred Ms. Gasior's case to Westmoreland County and sent the dispute back to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

It has collected dust there ever since.

Now an attorney for Kennametal and its executives has asked Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. to drop his clients from the lawsuit. He argues that the passage of time and the death of one of the defendants, former Kennametal Chairman Quentin Mc-Kenna, have "irreparably impaired" his clients' ability to defend themselves.

"There has been no reasonable excuse for the delay," Brett Farrar, a Pittsburgh attorney representing Kennametal told Judge Wettick at an Oct. 18 hearing.

Ms. Gasior, who is representing herself after several attorneys resigned from her case, said she has not done anything with her lawsuit because she felt threatened after testifying before Congress in 1991. The 52-year-old University of Pittsburgh law school graduate told a congressional committee that Kennametal violated U.S. export laws by selling military technology to Iraq in the years leading up to that country's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Kennametal denied her allegations. The company said it sold $18,000 of general purpose tooling to an Iraqi company in England after President George H.W. Bush imposed an embargo on trading with Iraq, but that the tooling never left England.

Ms. Gasior's lawsuit is not the only inactive case languishing in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, said court administrator Claire Capristo. She said some are still on the books because parties settle lawsuits without informing the court. That's not the case with the dispute between Ms. Gasior and Kennametal, but as Ms. Capristo noted, "the mere filing of an action doesn't prompt the court to do anything."

The flurry of recent activity came after Common Pleas Judge W. Terrence O'Brien, who is assigned to the case, notified the parties in May that he would dismiss it for lack of activity. Ms. Gasior filed papers four days before his July 23 deadline, indicating she wanted to continue the case.

Her original lawsuit, and the countersuit Kennametal filed against her, culminated a tumultuous two-year period that saw:

Ms. Gasior being dismissed after accusing a company executive of sexual harassment; Kennametal seeking her arrest for harassing Mr. McKenna's secretary; and U.S. Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C., the congressman that Ms. Gasior was working with on the Iraqi investigation, accusing Kennametal of using the arrest warrant to intimidate her into not informing government agencies about the company's Iraqi dealings.

The arrest warrant was later withdrawn, but that didn't stop Ms. Gasior from suing Kennametal. Her lawsuit also targeted others, including the Greensburg Tribune-Review for publishing statements Kennametal officials made about Ms. Gasior that she said were false.

The Tribune-Review has asked Judge Wettick to dismiss it from the case.

Kennametal's countersuit, filed in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court, accused Ms. Gasior of violating the terms of her separation agreement, interfering with its business, and making false and injurious statements about the company.

In court papers filed this October, Ms. Gasior said she had received federal protection in 1991 after several threats were made on her life. She told the court she lost the protection in 1996 and did not proceed with her lawsuit because of "continuing threats to her physical security and escalating violence from the defendants."

At the Oct. 18 hearing, Ms. Gasior told Judge Wettick that federal officials she was working with on the Iraqi investigation told her that, "I had better wait until it was safe to proceed."

Mr. Farrar and David Strassburger, who represents the Tribune-Review, declined to comment on Ms. Gasior's statement that she is in physical danger.

A U.S. Treasury Department investigation into Kennametal's dealings with Iraq ended in 1997 when Kennametal agreed to pay a $13,457 fine to settle the case.

The settlement with the Office of Foreign Assets Control involved "no finding or admission of legal liability," the company said at that time.

As for being a defendant in a lawsuit for 21 years, "We see no basis for Ms. Gasior's allegations and have considered the matter resolved since 1997, after the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Customs Service found no violations on the company's part," Kennametal said in a prepared statement.

A company spokeswoman declined comment on whether Kennametal intends to proceed with its lawsuit against Ms. Gasior.

Westmoreland County Prothonotary Christina O'Brien said there are cases older than the one Kennametal filed against Ms. Gasior. Only a court order can close them, she said.

"I would think both parties would want to end it, but it does happen," Ms. O'Brien said.

At the Oct. 18 hearing, Judge Wettick said he would read both sides briefs and make a decision.

Len Boselovic: or 412-263-1941.

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