WASHINGTON -- A House panel today subpoenaed confidential internal documents that a former Toyota Motor Corp. lawyer has said show that the automaker destroyed legal evidence about SUV rollover accidents.
The House Oversight Committee issued the subpoena as part of its investigation into Toyota's problems with unintended acceleration. It has scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing at which Toyota President Akio Toyoda agreed today to testify.
The subpoena was issued to former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller, who worked at Toyota's North American headquarters in Torrance, Calif., managing rollover cases from 2003 to 2007.
A week ago, Toyota won a temporary injunction from a court-appointed arbitrator that barred Biller from releasing the documents.
Biller's attorney, Jeffrey Allen of Santa Monica, Calif., said he intends to comply with the subpoena and ship the documents to the House committee by the required deadline of Feb. 23, the day before the hearing.
Both the committee and Allen said that the congressional subpoena trumps the partial preliminary injunction issued by the court-appointed arbitrator.
“The injunction doesn't prevent Mr. Biller from complying with his legal obligations,” Allen said in an interview.
Biller has about 6,000 Toyota documents in four, 18-inch bank boxes, Allen said. He declined to say who has possession of the documents or where they are located.
A Toyota spokeswoman didn't say whether the company intends to go to court to try to block the congressional subpoena.
Allen said he contacted Toyota's lawyers today and sent them a copy of the subpoena.
Biller was sued by Toyota for allegedly divulging confidential information after he left the company. The company is seeking $33.5 million in damages, Allen said.
Biller, who is in his late 40s, then filed a racketeering suit alleging Toyota destroyed engineering and testing evidence related to more than 300 rollover suits.
“There is clear evidence that Toyota was withholding and destroying documents necessary in litigation and necessary to present to” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Allen said.
In a recent interview with ABC News, Biller said, “You have to understand that Toyota in Japan does not have any respect for our legal system … they did not have any respect for our laws.”
While Biller still worked for Toyota, he spent four days in Japan trying to bring his concerns to the attention of senior headquarters executives, Allen said.
Biller was rebuffed and driven to resign, the lawyer said. He received a severance package.
While Toyota succeeded in preventing Biller from going public with the confidential documents, the arbitrator did not require him to return the documents or provide an inventory of which ones he had, Allen said.