J&J Lawyers' Questionable Ethics in High Stakes Litigation

Jane Akre
November 20, 2017
From Huffington Post

Mesh Medical Device News Desk, November 20, 2017 ~ Johnson & Johnson is involved in three high stakes health product mass tort cases and plaintiffs' lawyers allege the company is using questionable tactics.

Lawyers representing plaintiffs in three separate health products cases against defendant Johnson & Johnson say J&J attorneys have resorted to improper contact with witnesses over the last six weeks, reports The Legal Intelligencer (here).

The situation is being taken so seriously that in October, a federal judge asked the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate allegations of witness tampering involving DePuy, the J&J company responsible for metal-on-metal hips.

DePuy metal hip

The Journal reports that in another case involving the blood thinner Xarelto, the lead counsel for J&J’s subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, is alleged to have improperly contacted a key witness in the bellwether case. The plaintiffs' counsel was not told until the eve of trial.

In another charge, counsel for pelvic mesh plaintiffs argued that attorneys for Ethicon misrepresented the whereabouts of a witness important to a dispute about jurisdiction questions that have arisen since a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bristol-Myers Squibb.

In the pelvic mesh case, the allegations are that defense counsel told plaintiffs’ counsel that a former Ethicon employee no longer worked for Ethicon but they would try to find him.  But the man in question, James Williams, had not moved since leaving Ethicon. Additionally, he had been warned in October by the company that he might be deposed.

Plaintiffs' firms said the company was trying to prevent Mr. Williams’ deposition from taking place.

The Supreme Court decision essentially says that a plaintiff must reside in or the defendant company must do business in a state where a product liability case is litigated. See Bristol Myers-Squibb v. Superior Court of California story here.

The issue could have resulted in having the transvaginal mesh litigation transferred out of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.  Ethicon argues as many as 90 cases do not meet that criteria.

Since that decision, Judge Arnold New granted Ethicon’s motion to block plaintiffs from additional depositions about Ethicon’s materials suppliers. Plaintiffs will be allowed to depose a corporate designee about the sourcing of Ethicon materials.

There are more than 100 pelvic mesh cases waiting in the Philadelphia court. Kline & Specter is representing the plaintiffs.

The lawyers for J&J are with the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath but did not comment for the story wile J&J has denied allegations.

Earnie Knewitz said in an email to The Legal Intelligencer “We content that these allegations are completely without merit, and are simply meant to distract from the issues in these cases.”

In the DePuy case, a J&J attorney denies she asked a sales rep to communicate with a surgeon. Texas attorney Mark Lanier raised the witness tampering concerns during a hip implant trial in Dallas.

Mark Lanier, Plaintiffs' attorney, metal hips

Lanier alleges that orthopedic surgeon, Dr. David Shein, alleged a DePuy sales rep told him “there could be ramifications” from his upcoming testimony.  The doctor said the conversation and pressure from lawyers made him anxious. Lanier declined to put him on the stand.

In the DePuy case the jury was not allowed to hear about the alleged witness tampering and instead awarded the plaintiff $247 million.

The J&J law firm in the DePuy matter were Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom who call the suggestion of criminal wrongdoing an “unfair and unfounded attack on the integrity of the company and its legal team.”

J&J is facing high stakes lawsuits. The DePuy litigation has resulted in a $502 million and $1.04 billion verdicts.

The Xarelto case was the first bellwether to take place in the Philadelphia state court and transvaginal mesh cases against Ethicon in Philadelphia has resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts for the plaintiffs, the most recent being $57.1 million in September. ###

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