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Oregon National Guard victims demand that AOI not support KBR

Larry Roberta (seated in wheelchair) and other supporters rally at AOI offices in Salem.

Larry Roberta (seated in wheelchair) and other Qarmat Ali victims and supporters rally at AOI offices in Salem.

Associated Oregon Industries draws fire from injured vets

AOI to file brief on suit against military contractor
The Statesman Journal-by Queenie Wong-Aug 2, 2013

Connected to an oxygen tube, Oregon Army National Guard veteran Larry Roberta quietly moved back and forth in a wheelchair Friday holding a picket sign that read “Shame on you, Associated Oregon Industries.”

Roberta was among a dozen National Guard soldiers who were exposed to toxic chemicals while guarding a water plant during the Iraq war. The exposure to sodium dichromate, Roberta said, left him bed ridden for days with migraines and reduced his lung capacity.

In November, a federal jury in Portland found the military contracting company Kellogg Brown and Root Inc. guilty of negligence for exposing those soldiers to the chemicals.

The contractor was ordered to pay $85 million. Each soldier was awarded $6.25 million in punitive damages and $850,000 in noneconomic damages.

photo 4KBR then filed a notice in June to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stating they would appeal to get the decision reversed.

AOI, a business trade group, plans to file a brief that veterans who were awarded the damages say supports KBR’s appeal.

On Friday, about two dozen people including veterans affected by the lawsuit along with their family and friends rallied outside AOI to urge the group not to file the brief.

“I feel like I’m being stabbed in the back,” said Roberta, who lives in Aumsville.

John Ledger, vice president for AOI, confirmed the group was filing a brief but noted it was not intervening in the lawsuit.

“The purpose of the brief is simply to assist the Federal Court in understanding long-standing principles of Oregon law and how the Federal appellate court’s decision will impact a broad range of Oregon industries, businesses, and land owners,” Ledger said.

photo 2Ledger said he could not elaborate on the what the brief said because it had not been filed yet.

Geoffrey Harrison, the attorney representing KBR, said the case should have been dismissed and handled by the executive branch, not the courts — one of the issues that will be brought up during the appeal.

“We will raise a number of fundamental issues pointing out many errors along the way that led to this flawed, improper and unjust verdict,” he said.

Roberta said he’ll be waiting to see what the brief by AOI says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

qwong@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6694 or follow at twitter.com/QWongSJ.

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