WASHINGTON (March 5)—A seven-judge federal court panel has granted Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.´s motion to have 17 proposed class-action lawsuits consolidated in Columbus, Ohio, federal district court. The lawsuits, which seek as much as $3 billion in damages, allege that Cooper made as many as 55 million tires which were punctured with awls to remove air blisters. "Awling is a cover-up of the underlying defect in the production process that results in a lack of adhesion in various parts of the tire," said Hugh Lambert, a New Orleans attorney representing plaintiffs in the class actions. "The production process is the problem." Lambert said he did not know offhand how many potential plaintiffs were in the class actions, but added it was "wrong" for the judicial panel to consolidate the suits in a court only 100 miles from Cooper´s home base of Findlay, Ohio. Cooper had not answered questions about the class actions or the consolidation as of March 5.