Niagara Gazette

March 16, 2013

Tonawanda Coke manager demoted?

Plant's lawyer calls Cahill's reassignment temporary after News inquiry

By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Lawyers on opposing sides of the Tonawanda Coke trial disagreed Friday as to whether the plant’s superintendent was demoted after testifying for the prosecution against his employer last week.

Pat Cahill, who was plant superintendent when he testified March 6 in federal court, said he could not confirm or deny any such demotion when a Tonawanda News reporter called him Thursday night. 

But a different Tonawanda Coke employee, who answered the factory’s listed number Thursday evening, said the current plant superintendent was a man by the name of Bob, and not Pat Cahill. 

The last time the News called Tonawanda Coke to verify Cahill’s job title — the day he testified — the person answering confirmed Cahill was, at least at that point, the plant superintendent.

Friday morning in federal court, with the jury not yet in the courtroom, Gregory Linsin, Tonawanda Coke’s attorney, raised the issue before Judge William Skretny, saying Cahill’s lawyer had informed him of the News’ inquiry. 

He said that Cahill, who was formerly a foreman in the byproducts department before being named superintendent, was asked to “temporarily” return to his old job due to two exhaustion failures that were the result of operator error. 

“He is still acting as the plant superintendent and signing documents,” Linsin said. 

Linsin asked Skretny to tell the jury that media reports are “not always accurate.”

“Somehow, a reporter obtained his cell phone number,” Linsin said. “I can’t control the accuracy of media reports, but I wanted to bring this to the court’s attention.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango objected, arguing Linsin’s request to warn the jury was too extreme. 

“The press has the right to investigate and inquire,” Mango said.

He also contradicted Linsin’s account of Cahill’s job status, saying he is no longer acting as plant superintendent.

In response to Linsin’s concerns, Skretny said he will monitor the news and, as he has done throughout the trial, instruct the jury not to read media reports about the case.

After the discussions, the prosecution called a former plant superintendent, Ron Snyder, to the stand. Snyder resigned from the plant in 2005 after the company demoted him unexpectedly.

On direct examination, Snyder testified about the plant’s alleged violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The testimony comes the day after the prosecution’s expert witness on the law, Environmental Protection Agency official Philip Flax, testified the plant violated regulations by improperly storing and disposing of coal tar sludge, a byproduct of the coke-making process that is classified as hazardous waste.

Snyder backed up those claims by testifying that the sludge was mixed back in with coal on an outdoor, permeable surface, allowing it to seep into the ground.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150