The report that a Texas lawyer leading many Vioxx lawsuits was courting a prominent cardiologist and major plaintiff witness in the first federal Vioxx case may have been a misunderstanding, the Merck & Co. spokesman who had made the statement said Thursday.

The report about attorney Mark Lanier and Dr. Eric Topol of the Cleveland Clinic arose from a statement that Merck attorney Phil Beck made at the end of a hearing late Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, who is overseeing all federal Vioxx suits.