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April 8, 2008 - Whistle-Blowing Laws Out in Eastman Case

A King County Superior Court judge told jurors who are deliberating the fate of Gerald Eastman, a former Boeing quality assurance inspector, that whistle-blowing laws should not be considered.

Jurors continued into their third day of deliberations Thursday. They asked the judge the day before, "May we consider whistle-blowing laws as they pertain to this case?"

The judge  told them that they couldn't consider other laws, nor do outside research.

Eastman faces 16 felony counts of computer trespass, after downloading Boeing documents and providing some of them to a Seattle Times reporter.

He said he did so to highlight corruption at Boeing and a shoddy inspection process for new planes. The King County prosecutor has charged that some of the resulting articles had nothing to do with airplane safety.

A defense attorney told the judge Thursday morning that she "felt the court's instruction went beyond what was necessary."

The judge also raised concerns to the lawyers about national news regarding "inflammatory discussion about airline safety."

While the jury deliberates in Seattle, a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., revealed that the Federal Aviation Administration looked the other way even after inspectors found cracks in Southwest Airlines planes. When FAA inspectors complained about the safety problems, they were threatened with dismissal.

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines have recently grounded scores of planes. Representative James Oberstar, D-Minn., who has charged that the FAA has a "culture of coziness" with the carriers it regulates, led the hearing.

The judge brought jurors into the courtroom to again remind them not to consider outside evidence or information when deliberating the case. The jurors are not allowed to read or watch any media reports regarding Eastman or Boeing.

Eastman said he felt somewhat vindicated by the national reports about poor FAA oversight. One of his complaints as a Boeing employee and after his arrest was that the FAA overlooked faulty inspections at Boeing.

While working as a quality assurance inspector in Tukwila, he wrote to Boeing management, the FAA and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell about what he viewed as fraud in Boeing's airplane inspection process.

"With everything that's going on, you'd think somebody would be interested that the same thing is going on at Boeing," Eastman said.

"It's nice it's coming out now -- no matter what happens to me."

The jury did not reach a verdict Thursday; deliberations were to continue Friday.

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