DUBLIN -- Volkswagen Group challenged the right of an Irish court to hear a case over cheating on diesel-emissions tests as it fought to keep an employee from testifying for the first time in the scandal.
Paul Fogarty, a lawyer for VW, walked out of court to demonstrate that he didn't accept a judge's decision to hear evidence before the jurisdictional issue is decided. Fogarty exited as the first witness was called by lawyers representing customers that are suing the company.
"The court has no jurisdiction to hear these matters," Fogarty said Tuesday at the hearing in Castlebar, Mayo, in western Ireland.
The case in the tiny courtroom, a three-hour drive from Dublin, has bigger significance throughout Europe, with lawyers seeking evidence that will support lawsuits against the carmaker.
Hausfeld, a law firm that was involved in a U.S. class-action lawsuit against Volkswagen, is working with Irish lawyers to gather material for cases in Germany, which has limited discovery rules compared with Ireland or the U.S.
A VW executive from Ireland had been scheduled to testify about an affidavit submitted in July. Judge Mary Devins resumed the hearing after Fogarty walked out and the document was instead read out in court.
"The proceedings are being progressed inappropriately," Nicolai Laude, a spokesman for Volkswagen, said in an email.
Volkswagen’s application challenging the court's jurisdiction won't be heard until Sept. 16, but in the meantime the judge went ahead with the hearing anyway, Laude said.
"Volkswagen's lawyers considered this to be improper and unfair," Laude said. They also said they would appeal.
The lawyers walked out to avoid making it seem like they accepted the court had jurisdiction over the case, Laude said.
European politicians and consumer groups remain unhappy about the limited compensation being offered to VW customers in the region compared with the U.S., where car owners are getting as much as $10,000 after their car is repaired or repurchased.
On Monday, European Union Justice and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Vera Jourova said almost all national consumer-protection organizations and authorities asked by the EU for feedback said the company hasn't provided enough information. She said she'll meet this month with the organizations, authorities and VW officials to collect more information.
Michael Kremer, an attorney in Clifford Chance's Dusseldorf office, said a group of corporate trial lawyers that meet regularly to talk about litigation trends discussed the Irish VW case last week.
Undermine German rules
"If the attempt to get more information via Ireland succeeds, it would be quite a boost for plaintiff lawyers," Kremer said. "That would practically undermine the very restrictive German rules."
Volkswagen's cheating on emissions tests has reverberated across the globe since it erupted at the group's car operations a year ago. Jourova announced plans in July to work with European consumer groups and regulators to pressure the company to give payouts to affected owners. Despite Jourova's pressure, potential compensation or punishment of VW is out of her hands and up to regulators or courts.