U.S. judge tosses law firm's motion seeking Malaysia plane evidence

By Casey Sullivan (Reuters) - An Illinois judge on Monday dismissed a U.S. law firm's motion to obtain evidence of possible design and manufacturing defects from Boeing Co and Malaysian Airline System in connection with the disappearance of flight MH370 three weeks earlier. Cook County Judge Kathy Flanagan also threatened to impose sanctions against Ribbeck Law Chartered, citing previous instances where the Chicago-based law firm had "improperly brought" petitions, such as last year's Asiana Airlines plane crash in San Francisco. "Despite these orders, the same law firm has proceeded, yet again, with the filing of the instant petition, knowing full well that there is no basis to do so," said Flanagan. "Should this law firm choose to do so, the court will impose sanctions on its own motion." Ribbeck Law last week submitted, in Illinois Circuit Court, the first-filed legal action arising from the Malaysian plane tragedy saying it sought documents from the two companies concerning employees as well as sales and lease agreements, among other things. The firm said at the time it expected to represent families of more than half of the passengers onboard the missing flight, which may have crashed in the remote southern Indian Ocean with all 239 on board presumed dead. "OUTRAGEOUS" Several U.S. aviation lawyers and experts called the Ribbeck filing premature and a publicity stunt, since the details of the plane's disappearance were still largely unknown. Justin Green, a lawyer with competitor aviation law firm Kreindler & Kreindler, said the filing was "nothing short of outrageous." "Without plane wreckage, victims' bodies and any substantial evidence of cause or potential motive, there is simply no way to determine liability at this point in the investigation, and any legal counsel should recognize that," he said in a statement on Monday. Ribbeck lawyer Mervin Mateo said in an interview he had not yet reviewed Flanagan's ruling but that the firm would not be deterred in its attempts to bring lawsuits against Malaysian Airlines and Boeing. Mateo told said last week the firm had its own experts doing investigations of the Malaysian crash. He named one expert, Canadian plane crash investigator Max Vermij. Vermij, who has investigated plane disasters such as the Asiana crash and the EgyptAir crash of 1999, said in a separate interview, "I'm just waiting ... They haven't found anything that is suspicious in terms of the handling of the situation. It's more likely that it's just a straight accident ... We don't really know anything." (Reporting By Casey Sullivan; Editing by Ted Botha and Steve Orlofsky)