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January 23, 2020

Dust-up over media ahead of Roundup cancer trial opening

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Lawyers representing the opposing sides of the upcoming Monsanto Roundup cancer trial due to open Friday in St. Louis were huddled away from the courthouse on Thursday amid speculation that settlement talks between the plaintiffs attorneys and Monsanto owner Bayer AG were at a critical juncture.

In the absence of the attorneys, confusion over media access to trial proceedings erupted at a hastily called hearing at the St. Louis City Circuit Court after a clerk for Judge Elizabeth Hogan erroneously informed reporters that if they planned to observe the trial proceedings via a live feed from Courtroom View Network (CVN) they would need individual approval from the court. Reporters were told they must make an application for a court hearing on whether or not they could watch the live feed the court has agreed to allow CVN to provide.

CVN then sent a notice out to journalists alerting them to the fact that they may be barred from simply watching the proceedings remotely: “We’ve been informed that the Court has seemingly imposed a requirement that any member of the media wishing to watch the Roundup video feed via CVN must obtain specific permission from the court to do so. Our attorney is trying to contact the judge ASAP to resolve this, and hopefully it will be resolved,” said an email sent from CVN to journalists.

Additionally, the hearing was to take up the matter of whether or not CVN can provide pool access to certain broadcast news stations. Radio and television outlet that want to share some of the proceedings with their audiences will need to make individual pleas to the judge.

The hearing was aborted because attorneys for Bayer, who have objected to broadcasting the trial, were not present. Now the pool access issue is to be taken up Friday morning before opening statements in the trial, Gross said.

The limitations on simply watching the trial announced by the judge’s clerk turned out to be inaccurate, according to court spokesman Thom Gross. There are sharp limits on those who will be watching, however. No “downloading, recording, rebroadcasting or reposting of any content, including screen shots” is allowed.

The debate over how much visibility the trial could receive has been a lingering concern for Bayer as it seeks to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed against its Monsanto unit alleging Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The plaintiffs additionally allege that Monsanto should have warned users but instead covered up the risks of its herbicides.

Evidence in three trials concluded to date has sparked global outrage over the corporate conduct of Monsanto, as plaintiffs’ attorneys have introduced internal Monsanto records in which company executives discussed ghostwriting scientific literature, secretly deploying third parties to discredit independent scientists, and benefiting from cozy relationships with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bayer has said that televising the St. Louis trial could endanger its employees, including former Monsanto executives.

Several of the plaintiffs’ law firms that spear-headed the nationwide litigation have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, as part of the settlement talks with Bayer.

Bayer had made no secret of its desire to settle the mass tort litigation before any more trials take place. But one of the largest caseloads of plaintiffs is held by Virginia lawyer Mike Miller, and Miller has thus far refused to postpone the trials for his plaintiffs, apparently shrugging off settlement offers. Miller’s firm is providing lead counsel for the St. Louis trial and another in California that is still in the process of jury selection.

The Miller firm has several more trials coming up for its plaintiffs.