Providence's Alternative Source!

Web trap misfires for workers' advocate


One of the nation's largest law firms is guilty of computer hacking, according to Dr. David Egilman, a clinical associate professor at Brown Medical School.

Egilman says lawyer Kelly Stewart of Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue hacked into his password-protected Web site in June 2001 to discredit his testimony in a lawsuit about the poisoning of nuclear weapons plant workers. In a November 20 deposition, (the transcript is available on Egilman's Web site,, Stewart admitted using the password, but refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing. His firm didn't return a call seeking comment.

Egilman, who teaches corporate ethics and environmental health at Brown, owns Never Again Consulting in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Workers hired him as their expert witness in a lawsuit against the US Department of Energy and Brush Wellman Inc. of Colorado for exposing them to beryllium, a metal that causes lung disease and is used in manufacturing nuclear weapons. Wellman was represented by Jones, Day. The firm bills itself as one of the world's largest, employing 1600 lawyers, many of them in Cleveland, who represent more than half of the Fortune 500 companies.

During the trial, Egilman became suspicious that Jones, Day lawyers were illegally entering the password-protected portion of his Web site to discredit his testimony. According to Stewart's deposition, Jones, Day tried to purchase access to the site, but was put off by the price -- $1000 per lawyer for law firms, or $1.7 million for Jones, Day, according to Egilman's Web site. Attorney Douglas Behr of Keller & Heckman in Washington, DC, however, guessed the Web site's password while defending an Occidental Petroleum subsidiary, Occidental Chemical, in another lawsuit involving Egilman, workers, and vinyl chloride. Behr gave Stewart the password, according to Stewart's deposition, which Stewart used June 11, 2001, to fall into a trap set by Egilman.

The feisty worker's advocate had established a link on his site, entitled "See how Jones Day bought the Colorado Judge." When Stewart clicked on the link, his computer's identification was recorded.

But Egilman did not accurately predict Stewart's next move. The Jones, Day lawyer downloaded the inflammatory material and presented it to Jefferson County, Colorado District Judge Frank Plaut in the Wellman case. Infuriated by what he believed to be a violation of his gag order in the case, Plaut threw out Egilman's testimony. "I didn't believe they would commit a federal felony," Egilman says, "and then bring the evidence in to the court."

The Washington Post, in a story on the case, reports that entering a Web site by guessing a password is a violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But without Egilman's testimony, the jury in the Colorado case determined that DOE and Wellman were not liable for the workers' lung disease.

Appalled by the Jones, Day hacking, Egilman says he asked Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Riley and US Attorney Margaret Curran to prosecute. They declined. "They're against street crime," says Egilman, "as long as the street isn't Wall Street." Riley's spokeswoman declined comment. Curran's spokesman, Thomas Connell, says the US attorney does not comment on investigations, adding that there are often jurisdictional questions in similar cases involving alleged computer crimes. Egilman has not given up, however; he has sued Stewart, Behr, Jones, Day, and Occidental Chemical in a Texas court.

That hacking case is pending, but Egilman acknowledges that it is not his prime concern. "Compared to killing the workers, it's not much," he says. "The real victims are the workers."

Issue Date: January 17 - 23, 2003