Mary Barra’s Veracity on Trial in GM Lawsuits

Depositions for General Motors’ executives, including CEO Mary Barra, will begin in May, according to the Detroit News. The testimonies will be at the center of class-action lawsuits (set for trial in January, 2016) against GM for its ignition switch defect cover-up and are slated to conclude in early October of this year. It will not be the first time Barra has testified under oath about the recall debacle which is now blamed for having caused 74 deaths.

Attorneys for plaintiffs now claim they have evidence that GM executives knew about (and covered-up) the defects long before they admitted they did. Barra has testified under oath on four occasions before congressional committees regarding her knowledge of the deadly ignition switch defect that went unaddressed by GM for years. Barra has stood by her testimony that she only learned of the ignition switch defect in December of 2013, despite her having been in a position of power at GM for years as the issue was being tossed around at high levels of the company.

The Detroit News piece quotes one of the lead attorneys, Bob Hilliard, as follows:

Hilliard says documents turned over by GM raise questions about the internal report that it commissioned. He alleges GM is involved in a cover-up. The internal report suggested a culture of “incompetence and neglect” was to blame — not a purposeful effort over years to hide the deadly defect.

“Given the damning documents we have uncovered throughout the course of this litigation, the dance floor is very, very small and no GM witness will be able to shuffle around the truth,” Hilliard wrote in an email. “I expect we will find out how high up this cover-up goes.”

Hilliard wants to see emails obtained by Lance Cooper, a Georgia attorney who recently settled a high-profile switch defect case with GM, “that may implicate GM’s law firm of King & Spalding as well as other outside counsel in GM’s ‘massive cover-up,’ ” he said.

GM’s internal report, led by former U.S. attorney Anton Valukas, addresses King & Spalding’s role in ignition switch lawsuits.

“If the biggest law firms in the country helped GM cover up the cover-up, then the game changes and the targets shift,” Hilliard said in a statement. “GM pays the world’s biggest law firms millions of dollars, and if some of that money was paid to help with this ‘massive cover-up,’ then those firms have their fingerprints on the defective ignition switches and the blood of thousands of young victims on their hands.”

In March of 2014 I explained that it was unlikely that Barra was unaware of the ignition switch problem for years and questioned the internal investigation by GM with the following:

Mary Barra says that she will personally oversee the investigation to determine why motorists' lives were put at risk for years after the company knew of the problem. Considering that Ms. Barra was the head of product development in early 2011 and oversaw quality control, perhaps the investigation should include her accountability in not bringing the problem to light.

Regarding the deadly defect delay, the new chronology of events presented by GM states that, "In late July 2011, a meeting was held at GM involving Legal Staff, Field Performance Assessment ("FPA") and Product Investigations Personnel who would be involved in the Field Performance Evaluation ("PFE") process." Given Ms. Barra's position at the time, it is hard to believe that she was not aware of the issue. Ms. Barra's previous engineering roles may have made her aware at an even earlier date. The timeline of events clearly makes "New" GM accountable for the recall delay.

The accident and subsequent lawsuit that brought the GM defective ignition switch recall delay to light occurred in 2010. Attorney Lance Cooper represented the parents of 29 year old Brooke Melton, who died in the accident. The initial settlement was for $5 million. Is it likely that executives, especially Mary Barra who was in key leadership and engineering positions during the time, didn’t know about a problem severe enough to warrant huge settlements and lawsuits? The facts that Cooper alleges a fraudulent cover-up, opened a second lawsuit after additional evidence was found and recently received more than the initial settlement has to lead one to suspect that Barra is guilty of perjury.

Another forgotten GM recall delay case sheds light on Barra’s role during the 2011 timeframe. Vehicles with power steering defects, which GM knew about for years, were not recalled until 2014, similar to the ignition debacle case. That recall was prompted after I exposed the GM power steering problem here. GM finally caved to pressure and recalled defective vehicles in April of 2014, weeks after Barra and GM were first sent a letter by the National Legal and Policy Center requesting the recall.

An email later surfaced that Barra was made aware of the power steering problem in October of 2011. That is further supporting evidence that Barra was in the loop when it came to vehicle defects around the same time period as the ignition switch defect was being overlooked. provided a link to a copy of that damning email.

In April of 2014, the NY Times reported on the power steering email and the role it played in congressional hearings with the following:

Last month, Mary T. Barra, the new chief executive of General Motors, told a panel of stern and dubious House members that she first became aware of a serious safety issue with the Chevrolet Cobalt in December, two months before the company announced a recall that would eventually cover 2.6 million cars.

But an email contained among 700 pages of internal G.M. documents released on Friday by the same House committee raises questions of whether she knew more about safety problems with the Cobalt.

The correspondence shows that as a G.M. vice president in 2011, Ms. Barra was alerted to widening problems with power steering in the Cobalt and other models, an indication that she was made aware of safety problems in those cars earlier than she had suggested.

The documents, released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, detail years of deliberations inside G.M. over a dangerous flaw in the ignition switch of small cars that the company did not disclose to the public until this year.

It is simply unfathomable that General Motors is being allowed to get away with what, at the least, appears to be a massive cover-up of a defect that caused the deaths of at least 74 victims. Under Eric Holder, the Justice Department is the most politicized in history, making prosecutions unlikely, especially considering the crony relationship GM has with the Obama Administration. If the truth is ever exposed, it may well be civil litigators who pry it out.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.