With another potentially $1 billion verdict on the line, two heavyweight lawyers—plaintiffs’ counsel W. Mark Lanier and defense lawyer John Beisner—are trading ever-escalating accusations and barbs in court papers in a high-stakes DePuy hip implant trial.
Lanier and his team are complaining of improper conduct and frivolous objections, and lawyers for hip implant maker Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. have accused plaintiffs’ attorneys of misleading the jurors and springing new evidence on them in a “trial by ambush.”
To be sure, it’s no surprise that lawyers in the fourth bellwether trial over Pinnacle hip implants are fighting tooth and nail. Two previous trials landed $502 million and $1.04 billion verdicts. And as in those trials, Johnson & Johnson faces consolidated claims made by multiple plaintiffs at the same time—six New York plaintiffs to be exact.
It’s also not the first time that Lanier and Beisner have traded barbs in the litigation, which involves more than 9,000 cases. Earlier this year, Beisner, of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., accused Lanier, of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston, of failing to disclose payments he made to two expert witnesses in the second bellwether trial.
But the accusations in the latest trial, which began on Sept. 19 in Dallas, have been excessively contentious. In the latest spat, Lanier raised questions about potential tampering with one of his witnesses—a revelation that U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of the Northern District of Texas on Monday said could end up involving federal prosecutors and the FBI.
Lawyers on both sides already have slung more than a dozen motions and trial briefs at one another. Neither Lanier nor Beisner responded to calls seeking comment on this story.
Kinkeade has yet to rule on the series of motions. Here’s what’s been filed:
Plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed:
- A Sept. 27 trial brief to stop defense lawyers from making “repetitive and meritless objections” during trial. “Defendants’ tactics are nothing more than improper attempts to delay and obfuscate the trial,” the brief says. Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers responded on Sept. 29 with: “The fundamental premise of plaintiffs’ brief is that defendants should only be allowed to make objections at trial if plaintiffs deem those objections to have merit. This proposal is as preposterous as it sounds.”
- Trial briefs filed on Sept. 21 and Oct. 3 accuse Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers of improper conduct – in particular, telling the jury about the worldwide popularity of Pinnacle hip implants knowing that plaintiffs’ attorneys were barred from bringing up previous deferred prosecution agreements involving bribes to foreign government officials and payments to doctors. Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers, in a Sept. 26 response, accused plaintiffs’ attorneys of mischaracterizing those agreements.
- At a hearing on Monday, Kinkeade heard arguments about the statements of doctor that a DePuy sales representative told him “there could be ramifications” for his medical practice in connection with his upcoming testimony for the plaintiff. “He said the lawyers were ‘on him like crazy,’” according to an Oct. 15 affidavit filed by Dr. David Shein. Kinkeade called the developments “certainly disturbing and disconcerting to me.” He said he wanted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to interview the sale rep and any lawyers who contacted him.
Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers have filed:
- An Oct. 11 motion for mistrial based on Lanier’s references during witness questioning to prior cases involving DePuy hip implants. The motion notes that Lanier has done this before. “As demonstrated by the last MDL trial—where similar improper questioning and testimony culminated in gargantuan verdicts—improper references to ‘hundreds of other lawsuits’ are uniquely prejudicial because they tend to inflate any damages award.” The motion claims Lanier’s references violate a motion in limine order and, although some of the defense’s objections were sustained, “the horse was already out of the barn and the damage had been done.” On Oct. 15, Lanier denied any violations of court orders and insisted that the references are necessary to show witness bias and establish claims for punitive damages.
- An Oct. 9 motion to exclude or limit the testimony of Dr. Bernard Morrey—one of the experts whose payments Beisner accused Lanier of failing to disclose in an earlier trial. In a Sept. 18 order, Kinkeade allowed Morrey to testify as long as he provided a written report to Johnson & Johnson three days prior to testimony. The motion, which is Johnson & Johnson’s second in this case, says the report “essentially reprinted Dr. Morrey’s testimony” from an earlier trial “in bullet-point format.” If he testifies, the motion cautions, Morrey should not be permitted to mention his own patient experiences without medical records nor give opinions that are not in his report—as happened in previous trials. Lanier countered in an Oct. 10 response: “Defendants are fully aware of the testimony Dr. Morrey intends to offer at trial—and they have known it for a very long time.”
- An Oct. 15 motion for a jury instruction on the duty to warn to “correct plaintiffs’ counsel’s misrepresentation.” Specifically, the motion accuses Lanier of “insinuating to the jury several times” that Johnson & Johnson had a duty to warn patients when, under New York law, that duty was to surgeons.
- An Oct. 15 motion for a jury instruction to “disregard plaintiffs’ counsel’s misleading questioning” of a defense witness regarding assets he held in a nonprofit foundation. Plaintiffs’ attorneys, in an Oct. 17 response, insist that an instruction isn’t necessary.
- A Sept. 19 motion to reconsider consolidation of the six plaintiffs into a single trial. The motion is sealed, but Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly fought consolidated trials as leading to larger verdicts and prejudicing defendants. In an Oct. 10 response, plaintiffs’ attorneys called consolidated trials “standard operating procedure” in mass torts.
It’s unclear how Kinkeade could approach the motions and trial briefs. In the last trial, Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers filed a trial brief complaining that the plaintiffs would end up with more time than they would. But according to a Nov. 17 transcript, Kinkeade criticized defense counsel for causing its own delays by asking witnesses multiple questions just “to get to the point.”
In addition to Beisner, Johnson & Johnson’s team on the court papers includes Skadden’s Stephen Harburg, another Washington partner; Steven Quattlebaum of Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull in Little Rock, Arkansas; and Tracie Renfroe, a Houston partner at King & Spalding.