A former top Toyota lawyer who claims the company routinely hid evidence of safety defects has been asked to provide company documents to Congress. He was previously barred from disclosing the information by court order.
Dimitrios Biller, who worked for Toyota from 2003 to 20078 handling product liability lawsuits, has been subpoenaed by the House Oversight Committee, which is holding a Toyota hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Biller and Toyota are suing each other, and he had been barred from disclosing company secrets by a California court injunction.
The Congressional subpoena orders Biller to produce "all documents" in his possession "relating to Toyota motor vehicle safety and Toyota's handling of alleged motor vehicle defects." The subpoena specifically orders him to produce all documents related to the allegations in his suit against Toyota.
"Mr. Biller was served with a Congressional subpoena today," said Biller's attorney, Jeff Allen. "Mr. Biller is legally obligated to comply with the subpoena, and he will do so."
Said Allen, "The Congressional committee's interest in Mr. Biller and the documents demanded underscores the seriousness of the claims Mr. Biller has asserted against Toyota, and their far reaching implications. Congress and the American public are entitled to know what Mr. Biller has learned, and what he has endured as a result of his knowledge of Toyota's business practices."
Biller was unavailable for comment, but in an exclusive interview he had previously indicated to ABC News he wanted to be subpoenaed by Congress.
"The information and documents I have regarding Toyota's deceptive and illegal discovery practices will one day become publicly available," Biller said. "Our judicial system, government and the American people need to know how Toyota operates with total disregard of our laws and legal system."
Former Toyota Attorney Called To Testify
In a joint statement, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Towns, D.-N.Y. and ranking minority member Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif., said the committee had subpoenaed Biller because of the need to analyze "as much relevant information as possible."
"The only way we can ensure that the safety needs of American drivers are being met is to examine, in a bipartisan fashion, exactly who knew what and when, and if appropriate and immediate action was taken to mitigate any danger to the American public."
Biller claims the automaker regularly hid evidence of safety defects from consumers and regulators, and fostered a culture of "hypocrisy and deceit."
"You have to understand that Toyota in Japan does not have any respect for our legal system," said Biller. "They did not have any respect for our laws."
Biller claims that when Toyota received poor results in a vehicle rollover test, it ordered a new test in order to receive better results. According to Biller, the company also made a practice of concealing proof of safety problems, and did not disclose information it was obligated to produce during litigation.
"They were hiding evidence, concealing evidence, destroying evidence, obstructing justice," said Biller.
According to Biller, when he was preparing information that showed possible safety issues with Toyota vehicles to provide to plaintiffs, as required by law, his boss told him to remember the "golden rule." When Biller asked what the golden rule was, he claims, his boss said, "Don't screw the client."
Asked if he thought Toyota would lie to the federal government, Biller answered, "In my view, absolutely."
Biller also said that Toyota's gas pedal was not the real cause of random acceleration incidents. "It's the electronic throttle control," he said. Biller said he based his opinion on information he'd learned while at Toyota, but could not disclose the evidence because "that would be privileged information."
Biller says he has four boxes worth of documents that he claims were deliberately withheld from plaintiffs' lawyers suing Toyota in product liability lawsuits, despite court orders requiring that the automaker disclose the information.
The lawsuit Biller has filed against Toyota alleges the company "engaged in improper and illegal activities, including concealing and destroying evidence, perjury, violation of court orders, obstructing justice, mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit crimes." Toyota has also sued Biller, claiming that he had violated a non-disclosure agreement he made when he left the company.
The suits are currently in arbitration, and the former judge overseeing the case issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month prohibiting Biller from releasing the documents in question to the "press or other third parties."
According to retired judge Gary Taylor, the ruling will "preserve the status quo" until a ruling on the merits of the case is decided at a later hearing. An earlier California Superior Court ruling had granted Toyota's motion that the documents remain confidential.
Toyota was not immediately available for comment. In a previously released statement to ABC News, Toyota said, "Mr. Biller continues to make inaccurate and misleading allegations about Toyota's conduct that we strongly dispute and will continue to fight vigorously. Toyota takes its legal obligations seriously and works to uphold the highest professional standards."