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DaimlerChrysler Wins Lawyer Fines

May 19, 2000

DETROIT (AP) _ A Texas judge has levied a fine of $920,489 against three attorneys who filed a $2 billion lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler AG, saying they had tampered with evidence and attempted to bribe witnesses.

In his ruling Thursday, the judge also dismissed the lawsuit, and said he would report the attorneys _ Robert Kugle, Robert ``Trey″ Wilson and Andrew Toscano _ to the state bar of Texas and county prosecutors.

The action comes as part of DaimlerChrysler’s effort to pursue attorneys who file baseless lawsuits.

``This is the most flagrant example of misconduct that any attorney at DaimlerChrysler has ever seen,″ said DaimlerChrysler spokesman Jay Cooney.

Roy Barrera, the lawyer who represented Kugle, said he would appeal the decision from District Judge David Peeples.

``Mr. Kugel adamantly maintains he is innocent of any and all wrongdoing and he never knowingly or intentionally participated in any illegal or unethical conduct, nor any conduct that would be viewed as corrupting the judicial process,″ Barrera said.

Messages seeking comment from lawyers for the other two men were not immediately returned.

The case stemmed from a 1996 crash of a Dodge Neon on a highway near Sabinas, Coahuaila, Mexico. Seven members of the Fabila family were riding in the Neon _ five in the back seat _ when the car went out of control and flipped, killing four people, including three children.

The driver’s widow, Bridgett Fabila, sued the Chrysler Corp. in June 1998, claiming the crash was caused in part by a broken steering wheel decoupler, a joint that separates in collisions to prevent the steering column from impaling the driver. Chrysler Corp. merged with Daimler-Benz AG later that year.

DaimlerChrysler contended that Fabila told authorities the crash happened after her husband fell asleep at the wheel, letting the car drift into oncoming traffic. She reportedly said she and her husband jerked the wheel, causing the wreck.

The company said an expert hired by the Kugle law firm inspected the car in July 1998 and found the steering decoupler intact. Another expert for the firm inspected the car in September 1998 and found the decoupler separated. The first inspector photographed the part, and Kugle’s firm fought for two years to keep DaimlerChrysler from seeing the photographs.

DaimlerChrysler also had testimony from two Mexican Highway Patrol officers that an investigator for the Kugle firm had tried to bribe and intimidate them into changing their analysis of the crash.

The fine includes $760,332 for DaimlerChrysler’s legal costs, $105,157 for a dealer’s legal costs, and $55,000 in fees for appeals.

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