- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Dole Fresh Fruit Co. has accused two attorneys of recruiting clients to make false claims that a pesticide made them sterile while they worked on Nicaraguan banana farms.

A three-day hearing opens Tuesday to review Dole’s allegations that all but one of 11 plaintiffs in two upcoming cases had never worked on a banana farm and the men were paid and coached by Los Angeles-based attorney Juan Dominguez and his colleague in Nicaragua, Antonio Hernandez Ordenana.

“The court became deeply concerned that fraud may be occurring and that it has tentacles that extend to all of the Nicaraguan (pesticide) cases pending before it,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney wrote in court documents.

The men claimed they were made sterile after exposure to a pesticide known as DBCP, manufactured by Dow Chemical Co. of Michigan, which is also named in the lawsuits. The chemical was used in the 1970s but was subsequently banned over concerns about its effects on human health.

Westlake Village-based Dole alleges the two attorneys paid and cajoled witnesses and plaintiffs into saying they had worked on banana plantations and been rendered sterile. The attorneys showed videos to the men depicting life on the plantations to help them tell their stories, falsified sterility documents and hid evidence that some of the men who had supposedly worked on a banana farm went on to sire children, Dole said in court documents.

Dominguez even made radio broadcasts telling listeners not to cooperate with Dole investigators, Dole alleged.

Dominguez did not return several messages left Monday. Attorneys from Dole and Dow declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

Parts of the hearing will be closed to the public to protect the identities of witnesses to the scheme, said court spokesman Alan Parachini.

A jury in November 2007 awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to five workers, but a judge later dismissed those damages, saying they could not be used to punish a domestic corporation for injuries that occurred only in a foreign country.

The case marked the first time a U.S. jury heard a lawsuit involving sterility and DBCP. The lawsuit claimed Dole continued to use the pesticide, which is now banned worldwide, long after its dangers were known.

Thousands of other plaintiffs have won judgments against Dole in Nicaragua, but these have not been enforced because the company no longer has any assets in that country.

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