Asbestos Lawyer Aiding Italians In Wake Of Billionaire's Conviction
In 1996, Yale University awarded Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny an honorary degree for his work as a "green" businessman who used his wealth to fund sustainable development in Latin America and elsewhere.
Seventeen years later, an organization representing victims of asbestos exposure is urging Yale to rescind the degree.
The effort centers around Schmidheiny's criminal conviction in an Italian court for creating an environmental disaster that killed thousands of people exposed to asbestos. Schmidheiny was chief executive officer of Eternit, an asbestos-cement company.
A trial court in Italy sentenced him last year to 16 years in prison for causing 2,000-plus deaths in the 36,000-person town of Casale Monferrato, Italy, in the country's Piedmont region. It is there that one of Eternit's manufacturing plants was located.
This past summer, an appeals court in Turin, Italy, upheld the conviction and increased the sentence to 18 years.
Schmidheiny, who is now 65, is appealing the ruling to the country's highest court and has not yet served any prison time. In fact, he reportedly did not even appear for the trial.
The Asbestos Victims and Relatives Association, formed in Italy, sought a U.S. lawyer to urge Yale University to rescind the honorary degree to Schmidheiny. They asked Christopher Meisenkothen, of Early, Lucarelli, Sweeney & Meisenkothen in New Haven, to handle the case. Meisenkothen, who has handled asbestos litigation for victims across the U.S., agreed to take on the matter pro bono.
"Yale's own Occupational and Environmental Medicine Clinic has long been at the forefront of treating asbestos-exposed workers in Connecticut," Meisenkothen wrote in a letter to the university. "I have seen Yale's exceptional work on asbestos-related disease firsthand as many of my firm's local clients have been treated or seen at the Clinic over the course of the past 30-plus years and several of Yale's excellent doctors have testified as expert witnesses on behalf of asbestos victims.
"It would certainly be in keeping with Yale's long and valued tradition of helping asbestos victims if it took another look at Mr. Schmidheiny's case and revoked the honorary degree that was so clearly unwarranted," concluded Meinsenkothen.
Meisenkothen sent the five-page letter late last month to all 18 trustees of The Yale Corporation (including Yale President Peter Salovey, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman), the Office of General Counsel, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the President, and Yale's past president, Richard Levin.