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.

Stakes are high with two Roundup cancer trials starting amid settlement talks

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It’s been nearly five years since international cancer scientists classified a popular weed-killing chemical as probably carcinogenic, news that triggered an explosion of lawsuits brought by cancer patients who blame the former chemical maker Monsanto Co. for their suffering.

Tens of thousands of U.S. plaintiffs – some lawyers involved in the litigation say over 100,000 – claim Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and other glyphosate-based weed killers caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while Monsanto spent years hiding the risks from consumers.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

Two new trials – one in California and one in Missouri – are now in the process of selecting juries. Opening statements are scheduled for Friday for the Missouri trial, which is taking place in St. Louis, Monsanto’s former home town. The judge in that case is allowing testimony to be televised and broadcast by Courtroom View Network.

Bayer has been desperate to avoid the spotlight of more trials and bring an end to the saga that has bludgeoned the pharmaceutical giant’s market capitalization, and exposed to the world Monsanto’s internal playbook for manipulating science, media and regulators.

It looks like that end could be coming soon.

“This effort to secure a comprehensive settlement of the Roundup cases has momentum,” mediator Ken Feinberg said in an interview. He said he is “cautiously optimistic” that a “national all-in” settlement of the U.S. lawsuits could happen within the next week or two. Feinberg was appointed last May by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria to facilitate the settlement process.

Neither side wants to wait and see how appeals filed over the trial verdicts play out, according to Feinberg, and Bayer hopes to have good news to report at its annual shareholders’ meeting in April.

“You’re rolling the dice with those appeals,” Feinberg said. “I don’t think anybody wants to wait until those appeals resolve.”

In a recent sign of settlement progress, a trial scheduled to start next week in California – Cotton v. Monsanto – has been postponed. A new trial date is now set for July.

And on Tuesday, Chhabria issued a stern order reminding both sides of the need for secrecy as the settlement talks proceed.

“At the request of the mediator, the parties are reminded that settlement discussions… are confidential and that the Court will not hesitate to enforce the confidentiality requirement with sanctions if necessary,” Chhabria wrote.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated by litigation sources, though Feinberg said he would “not confirm that number.” Some analysts say even $8 billion would be hard to justify to Bayer investors, and they expect a much lower settlement amount.

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. But as they ease back, other firms racing have been racing to sign new plaintiffs, a factor that complicates settlement talks by potentially diluting individual payments.

Talks have also been complicated by the fact that one of the leading Roundup litigators – Virginia lawyer Mike Miller, a veteran in taking on large corporations in court – has so far refused to postpone trials, apparently shrugging off the settlement offers. Miller’s firm represents thousands of plaintiffs and is providing lead counsel for the two trials now getting underway.

The Miller Firm has been a critical part of the team that also involved the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman firm from Los Angeles that dug out internal Monsanto records through discovery, using the evidence to achieve the three trial victories. Those records fueled a global debate over Roundup safety, showing how Monsanto engineered scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

Some of Miller’s clients are cheering him on, hoping by holding out Miller can command a larger pay-out for the cancer claims. Others fear he could scuttle the chances for a large settlement, particularly if his firm loses one of the new trials.

Feinberg said it is unclear if a comprehensive resolution can be achieved without Miller.

“Mike Miller is a very, very good lawyer,” said Feinberg. He said Miller was seeking what he thinks is appropriate compensation.

Feinberg said there are many details to work out, including how a settlement would be apportioned to plaintiffs.

A worldwide following of journalists, consumers, scientists and investors are watching the developments closely, awaiting an outcome that could impact moves in many countries to ban or restrict glyphosate herbicide products.

But those most impacted are the countless cancer victims and their family members who believe corporate prioritization of profits over public health must be held to account.

Though some plaintiffs have successfully treated their cancers, others have died while waiting for a resolution, and others grow still sicker as each day passes.

Settlement money won’t heal anyone or bring back a loved one who has passed. But it would help some pay medical bills, or cover college costs for children who have lost a parent, or just allow for an easier life amid the pain that cancer brings.

It would be far better if we didn’t need mass lawsuits, teams of attorneys and years in court to seek payments for injuries attributed to dangerous or deceptively marketed products. It would be far better to have a rigorous regulatory system that protected public health and laws that punished corporate deception.

It would be far better if we lived in a country where justice was easier to obtain. Until then, we watch and we wait and we learn from cases like the Roundup litigation. And we hope for better.

Settlement in Monsanto Roundup cancer litigation complicated by hold-out attorney

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What will it take to get Mike Miller to settle? That is the pressing question as one of the lead lawyers in the nationwide Roundup cancer litigation has thus far refused to align with fellow litigators in agreeing to settle cases on behalf of thousands of cancer patients who claim their diseases were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s herbicide products.

Mike Miller, head of the Orange, Virginia-based law firm that bears his name, has been unwilling to accept the terms of settlement offers discussed in mediation talks between Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG and a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys. That recalcitrance is a critical sticking point that is interfering with a resolution, sources close to the litigation say.

Instead, Miller’s firm is launching two new trials this month, including one that started today in Contra Costa, California, and one that starts Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri. It is possible that Miller could agree to a settlement at any point, interrupting trial proceedings, however. Miller also has a trial set for February in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. That case, brought by cancer patient Elaine Stevick, would be the second trial to be held in federal court.

Miller’s move to continue to try cases separates him from other leading Roundup plaintiffs’ firms, including the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman law firm of Los Angeles and the Denver, Colorado-based Andrus Wagstaff firm. Like the Miller firm, Baum Hedlund and Andrus Wagstaff represent several thousands plaintiffs.

Those firms have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, in order to facilitate a settlement.

Some sources have pegged a potential settlement number at $8 billion-$10 billion, though some analysts have said that number would be hard to justify to Bayer investors, who are keeping a close eye on the developments.

Critics accuse Miller of acting in a way that could hurt the ability of thousands of plaintiffs to obtain payouts from Bayer, but supporters say he is championing his clients’ interests and refusing to accept terms he finds less than optimal. Miller is a veteran litigator who has a long history of taking on large companies, including pharmaceutical giants, over alleged product-related consumer injuries.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller.

“Mike Miller has a view of what his cases are worth and is seeking what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” said Feinberg.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

Monsanto has lost all three of the trials held so far. The Miller Firm handled two of those trials – bringing in Baum Hedlund lawyers to help with the case of  Dewayne “Lee” Johnson (after Mike Miller was severely injured in an accident just prior to trial) and also with the case of husband-and-wife plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod.  Johnson was awarded $289 million and the Pilliods were awarded more than $2 billion though the trial judges in each case lowered the awards. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by the Andrus Wagstaff firm and attorney Jennifer Moore.

Miller’s bid to push new trials carries several risks, including the fact that Monsanto could prevail in one or more of the cases, which could provide leverage to Bayer in settlement talks. Conversely, though, if Miller were to win the trials that could offer fresh leverage for the plaintiffs to ask for more money.

The pressure to settle has been ratcheting higher for both sides.  Complicating factors include a ballooning of the number of plaintiffs’ signed by law firms around the United States amid the publicity of a possible settlement. Some media reports have pegged the total number of plaintiffs at 80,000 while some sources have said the number is well over 100,000. A large part of that number, however, reflects plaintiffs that are signed but have not filed actions in court, and some who have filed but do not have  trial dates. Any settlement now would represent a large percentage of plaintiffs, but not likely all, sources said.

All the cases allege that the cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including the widely used Roundup brand. And all allege Monsanto knew about, and covered up, the risks.

Among the evidence that has emerged through the litigation are internal Monsanto documents showing the company engineered the publishing of scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; the funding of, and collaborating with, front groups that were used to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with Monsanto’s herbicides; and collaborations with certain officials inside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect and promote Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

In the California trial that started today, Kathleen Caballero alleges that she developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after spraying Roundup from 1977 to 2018 as part of her work at a gardening and landscaping business, and in her operation of a farm.

In the trial set to start Tuesday in St. Louis, there are four plaintiffs- Christopher Wade, Glen Ashelman, Bryce Batiste and Ann Meeks.

A third trial is also set for this month in Riverside County Superior Court. That case was brought by Treesa Cotton, a woman who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 that she blames on exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup.

Monsanto loses effort to head off St. Louis trial that starts next week

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Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG has failed in efforts to head off a Missouri trial over claims brought by cancer patients that Monsanto’s herbicide caused their diseases and Monsanto hid the risks.

In a ruling handed down Wednesday, St. Louis City Judge Elizabeth Byrne Hogan of Missouri’s 22nd Circuit ruled that the company wasn’t entitled to summary judgment in the case of Wade v. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.

Hogan further frustrated Monsanto by ordering Thursday that the trial could be audio and video recorded and broadcast to the public. Lawyers for Monsanto had argued that the trial should not be broadcast because the publicity could endanger witnesses and former Monsanto executives.

Judge Hogan ruled that the trial would be open to audio and video recording and broadcast from its beginning on Jan 21 through the end of the trial, with several exceptions, including no coverage of jury selection.

The trial will be the first to take place in St. Louis, the former hometown for Monsanto before the company was acquired by Bayer in June 2018.

Monsanto lost the first three trials that have so far taken place. In those three trials, a total of four plaintiffs claimed exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them each to develop types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up evidence of the risks.

Representatives for both sides have been working with a court-appointed mediator since last May to try to resolve the litigation. As settlement talks have progressed, Bayer has successfully negotiated arrangements with certain plaintiffs’ law firms to postpone and/or cancel several trials, including one that had been set to get underway in the St. Louis area the last week of January. Among the cases pulled from the trial schedule are two cases involving cancer-stricken children and a case involving a woman who has suffered extensive debilitation from her bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

But while other firms pull back from trial plans, the Virginia-based Miller Firm, which is the lead counsel for the group of plaintiffs in the Wade case, has pushed forward. The Miller Firm already has two trial victories under its belt, having represented the first trial plaintiff, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, and the most recent trial plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by two separate firms.

In addition to the Wade case, the Miller firm has another trial due to start in California that will overlap with the Wade case if both proceed as planned.

Several of the lead law firms involved in the litigation stopped accepting new clients months ago, but other attorneys around the United States have continued to advertise, drawing in more potential plaintiffs. Some sources say the list of plaintiffs now totals more than 100,000 people. Last year Bayer reported to investors that the list of plaintiffs in the Roundup litigation totaled more than 42,000.

In ruling against Monsanto’s bid for summary judgment, Judge Hogan shot down an assortment of arguments asserted by the company’s lawyers, including Monsanto’s repeated effort to claim that because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes glyphosate is not carcinogenic, a federal legal  preemption exists.

“Defendant has not cited a single case that holds that the EPA’s regulatory scheme preempts claims such as Plaintiffs’,” Judge Hogan said in her ruling. “Every court presented with this issue has rejected it.”

With respect to the company’s argument that a jury should not be entitled to consider punitive damages, the judge said that would be a matter for consideration after seeing evidence presented at trial. She wrote: “Defendant argues that because Roundup has been consistently approved by the EPA and other regulatory agencies, its conduct cannot be considered willful, wanton or reckless as a matter of law. Plaintiffs respond that they will present evidence of Monsanto’s reckless disregard for the safety of others, and despicable and vile conduct, which has been held sufficient to submit the claim of punitive damages to the jury in other cases that have been tried. Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment on punitive damages.”

Anticipation Builds For Settlement of Roundup Cancer Claims

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Anticipation is building around the belief that there could soon be an announcement of at least a partial settlement of U.S. lawsuits pitting thousands of U.S. cancer patients against Monsanto Co. over allegations the company hid the health risks of its Roundup herbicides.

Investors in Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018,  are keeping a close eye on the status of three trials currently still on the docket to get underway this month. Six trials were initially set to take place in January, but three have recently been “postponed.” Sources say the postponements are part of the process of obtaining an overall settlement with several plaintiffs’ attorneys who have large numbers of cases pending.

The three trials still on the docket for this month are as follows: Caballero v. Monsanto, set to start Jan. 17 in Contra Costa Superior Court in California; Wade v. Monsanto, set to start Jan. 21 in St. Louis City Circuit Court in Missouri; and Cotton v. Monsanto, scheduled for Jan. 24 in Riverside Superior Court in California.

A hearing scheduled for today in the Caballero case was called off, but another hearing is set for Thursday before the trial gets underway Friday, according to court filings. Possibly underscoring the fluidity of the situation, at least one of the key witnesses expected to testify in the case has been told he will not likely be needed, according to a source close to the litigation.

In St. Louis, Monsanto’s former hometown, the court calendar calls for the Wade trial to get underway in front of Judge Elizabeth Byrne Hogan a week from today, said court spokesman Thom Gross.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Mike Miller, who represents plaintiff Kathleen Caballero as well as multiple plaintiffs in the Wade trial, said he was looking forward to the trials for these “victims of Monsanto’s deceit.” Miller said rumors that his trials would be postponed are false and he fully intends for the trials to go forward.

Miller and other attorneys involved in the litigation have declined to answer questions about a potential settlement.

But analysts who follow Bayer say that settlement discussions are looking at a potential deal for $8 billion to settle current cases with $2 billion set aside for future needs.

After losing three out of three trials and facing thousands of claims by cancer victims who allege their diseases were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG has been working for months to avoid any additional trials. Bayer was successful in delaying several trials slated for late 2019 and the three that were planned for January before being postponed. Two of those cases involved children stricken with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the third was brought by a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

There are many complicating factors hindering resolution of the litigation, including the fact that plaintiffs’ attorneys with no connection to the plaintiffs’ leadership team continue to advertise for new clients to add to the pool, thus potentially thinning the payouts for plaintiffs who have been awaiting their day in court for years.

In working toward a settlement Bayer is hoping to appease investors unhappy with the mass tort liability Bayer took on in acquiring Monsanto, and hopes to avoid more publicity surrounding damning evidence that was introduced during the previous trials indicating that Monsanto knew of the cancer risks of its weed killing products but failed to warn consumers. The revelations have triggered outrage around the world and prompted moves to ban the glyphosate-based herbicides.

Earlier this month the town of Dennis, Massachusetts announced it will no longer allow use of the herbicide glyphosate on town-owned property. It is one of a number of communities in the Cape Cod area that have recently said they will restrict or ban glyphosate herbicides use. Numerous other cities and school districts around the United States have said they are looking at, or have already decided to,  ban or restrict the use of glyphosate-based herbicides.

Internationally, Vietnam and Austria have said they will ban glyphosate while Germany has said it will ban the chemical by 2023. French leaders also have said they are banning glyphosate-based herbicides.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sided with Monsanto and Bayer in saying there is no evidence to support claims that glyphosate-based herbicides can cause cancer.

St. Louis Monsanto Roundup Trial Postponed, Bayer stock climbs

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A highly anticipated Roundup cancer trial set to start later this month in the St. Louis area has been pulled from the docket, a court official said on Wednesday.

The trial, which was to pit a woman named Sharlean Gordon against Roundup maker Monsanto Co., was to start Jan. 27 in St. Louis County and was to be broadcast to the public. Notably, Gordon’s lawyers planned to put former Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant on the stand. St. Louis was the home of Monsanto’s corporate headquarters until the company was purchased by Bayer AG of Germany in June of 2018.

In taking the trial off the calendar, the judge in the case has ordered that a status conference be set for a month from now, said St. Louis County Court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson.

The Gordon trial was already postponed once – it originally was scheduled for August. It is one of several trials that have been postponed in the last several months as Bayer attempts to find a settlement to the mass of claims filed against Monsanto by people stricken with non-Hodgkin lymphoma they claim was caused by exposure to Monsanto Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides. Bayer officials have said that Monsanto is facing more than 42,700 plaintiffs in the United States.

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois, and has suffered extensive debilitation due to her disease. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home, died of cancer.  The case  is actually derived from a larger case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon was to be the first of that group to go to trial.

Monsanto and Bayer have denied that Monsanto’s herbicides can cause cancer, and assert the litigation is without merit but is being fueled by greedy plaintiffs’ attorneys.

According to sources close to the litigation, discussions are underway to postpone more Roundup cancer trials, possibly including one set to start January 21 in St. Louis City Court. Attorneys for Monsanto and for the plaintiffs in the upcoming January trials declined to comment.

Shares in Bayer hit a 52-week high and were up close to 3 percent Wednesday. Investors have been pushing the company to find a way to avoid future trials and to settle the litigation.

In the three Roundup cancer trials held so far, unanimous juries have found that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides does cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company covered up the risks and failed to warn consumers. The three juries awarded a total of four plaintiffs more than $2 billion in damages, but the trial judges in each case have reduced the awards significantly.

No damages have yet been paid as Monsanto appeals the verdicts.

Bayer’s annual shareholders’ meeting is set for April 28 and analysts said investors would like to see either a settlement of the litigation by that time, or at least meaningful progress in containing the liability. Bayer’s stock took a dive, losing billions of dollars in value, after the first jury verdict in August 2018, and share prices remain depressed.

More Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trials Expected to be Postponed

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(UPDATE Jan. 8, 2020- On Wednesday, St. Louis County Court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson confirmed that one trial set to start Jan. 27 has been officially postponed with no new trial date yet set. That trial  was to pit a woman named Sharlean Gordon against Monsanto. )

Discussions are underway to postpone one or more highly anticipated Roundup cancer trials set to start in January, including trials scheduled for St. Louis, the former hometown of Roundup herbicide maker Monsanto Co., according to sources close to the litigation.

Court dockets still show trials scheduled for later this month in St. Louis and in California courts, and court officials say they are still planning for the trials to take place on the designated dates. But multiple  legal sources said the opposing sides were nearing agreements that would put off the trials by several months, if not longer. Attorneys for Monsanto and for the plaintiffs in the upcoming January trials declined to comment.

The talk of trial delays is not unexpected. Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in June 2018, successfully negotiated the postponement of several trials that had been set for the fall of 2019 after losing each of the three trials held to date. Each involved plaintiffs who claimed their cancers were caused by exposure to Roundup and other Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicides.

The juries  found not just that the company’s herbicides can cause cancer, but that Monsanto knew about the risks and hid the information from consumers. Bayer has estimated more than 42,700 people have filed claims in the United States against Monsanto, which is now a wholly owned unit of Bayer.

Bayer and a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys have been pursuing a potential settlement of the litigation that could amount to well more than $8 billion, the legal sources said.

Bayer has been particularly uneasy about trials scheduled for St. Louis, where former Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant has been subpoenaed to testify and the trial of plaintiff Sharlean Gordon is to be broadcast to the public. In the three previous trials, all held in California, Monsanto executives have given testimony through depositions and have not had to take the stand in front of juries.

“Trial postponements make perfect sense right now,” said Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tom Claps. “I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to stay out of the courtroom at this time, especially when negotiations seem to be progressing in a positive manner.”

Amid the maneuvering, more cases continue to stack up. Lawyers for Monsanto were in court Monday in Independence, Missouri to set a schedule and trial date for a newly filed lawsuit brought by a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she claims she developed due to her residential use of Roundup.

Gregory Chernack of the Washington, D.C., -based Hollingsworth law firm, one of Monsanto’s long-serving defense firms, told the judge in Independence that Monsanto wanted the case consolidated with roughly 30 others being overseen by a different judge in Kansas City, Mo. Attorneys for plaintiff Sheila Carver objected to the suggestion, and asked the judge to go ahead and set a trial date. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Phillips decided to give the parties 30 days to file motions on the matter.

Bayer’s annual shareholders’ meeting is set for April 28 and analysts said investors would like to see either a settlement of the litigation by that time, or at least meaningful progress in containing the liability. Bayer’s stock took a dive, losing billions of dollars in value, after the first jury verdict in August 2018, and share prices remain depressed.

“Bayer’s stock has reacted negatively to each of the three trial verdicts. Therefore, Bayer does not want to face more negative trial headlines from losing another trial, especially while it is engaged in good faith settlement discussions,” said Claps.

There are multiple factors at play, however, including the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the appeals that are pending for each of the three trials. If an appellate court were to overturn the jury findings of Monsanto’s liability, it would weaken the plaintiffs’ bargaining power for a global settlement. Conversely, the company’s position would be weakened if the jury verdicts are upheld on appeal. But no decision is expected on the appeals for several more months at least.

In December, the U.S. Department of Justice took the rare step of intervening in the litigation to side with Monsanto and Bayer in the appeal of one of the verdicts.

Former Monsanto CEO Ordered to Testify at Roundup Cancer Trial

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Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company’s Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.

Grant, who led St. Louis-based Monsanto from 2003 until the company was sold to Bayer AG of Germany in June of 2018, and spent a total of 37 years working for Monsanto, was subpoenaed by lawyers for plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, to testify at a trial slated to begin Jan. 27 in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The Gordon trial was originally scheduled for August of this year but was delayed as part of an effort to undertake settlement talks between Bayer and lawyers for tens of thousands of plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto with claims similar to Gordon’s.

Two other trials set for January, both in courts in California and both involving children diagnosed with cancer, were recently postponed due to continued settlement talks.

Bayer estimates that there are currently more than 42,000 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Grant did not have to testify live at the three Roundup cancer trials that have taken place so far because they were all held in California. But because Grant resides in St. Louis County, plaintiffs’ attorneys saw an opportunity to get him on the stand in person.

Attorneys for Grant have been fighting the subpoena, arguing that he is not a scientist or regulatory expert and he has already provided information in deposition testimony. Grant has also argued that he should not have to testify because he plans to be out of the country starting February 9.

But in a decision handed down Dec. 5, a special master appointed to the case sided with Gordon’s attorneys and ruled that Grant was not entitled to an order quashing the subpoena for trial testimony.

“Mr. Grant appeared for interviews on public radio representing that Roundup is not a carcinogen; in earnings calls for investors Mr. Grant personally responded that the classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was ‘junk science;’ in 2016 Mr. Grant personally lobbied the EPA Administrator and the Agricultural Committee Chair of the topic of glyphosate,” the special master’s order states.

“Although Mr. Grant does not have scientific knowledge that doubtless will be a significant component to this lawsuit, he was CEO of Monsanto for 15 years and took part in presentations, discussions, interviews and other appearances for Monsanto as CEO in which the topics of Roundup and glyphosate were explained, discussed and defended,” Special Master Thomas Prebil said in his decision.

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois, and has suffered extensive debilitation due to her disease. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home where Gordon lived into adulthood, died of cancer.  The case  is actually derived from a larger case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

In the three previous trials, unanimous juries have found that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides does cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company did cover up the risks and fail to warn consumers. The three juries awarded a total of four plaintiffs more than $2 billion in damages, but the three trial judges have reduced the awards significantly in each case.

All are being appealed and none of the winning plaintiffs have yet received any of the monetary awards the juries ordered.

JOHNSON APPEAL DELAYED

The first plaintiff to win against Monsanto is a California school groundskeeper from California. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was awarded $289 million by a jury in August 2018. The trial judge later lowered the damages to $78 million. Monsanto appealed seeking to overturn the jury decision and Johnson cross-appealed seeking to reinstate the full award of $289 million.

The California Court of Appeal 1st Appellate District said it would act swiftly in ruling on the consolidated appeals and lawyers for both sides initially hoped to have a ruling by the end of this year. But the case has been delayed for several weeks as both sides awaited a date for oral arguments. On Dec. 3, Monsanto’s attorneys asked the court not to schedule oral arguments in January or February, as several new Roundup trials are set for those months.  Johnson’s attorneys opposed that request for further delay.

On Friday, the court issued an order stating that while it agreed with Johnson about the need to
“schedule oral argument as soon as practicable,” it was unlikely oral arguments could be held until March of April “given the number and length of all the briefs to be considered, the outstanding motions that the court must rule on when considering the merits of the appeal,” and other factors.

Six Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trials Set for January

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After several months out of the headlines, lawyers for both sides of the nationwide Roundup cancer litigation are gearing up for overlapping trials in the new year as several more cancer patients seek to blame Monsanto for their diseases.

Six trials are currently set to take place starting in January, with one in February, two in March and additional trials scheduled almost every month from April through October 2021. Thousands of additional plaintiffs still are working to get trial dates set for their claims.

The plaintiffs in the upcoming January trials include two children who were stricken by non-Hodgkin lymphoma allegedly after being repeatedly exposed to Monsanto herbicides at very young ages. Also set for January is the trial for a woman named Sharlean Gordon who has suffered several debilitating recurrences of her cancer. Another trial will present the claims of five plaintiffs who claim Monsanto’s herbicides caused their cancers.

Notably, two of the trials in January will take place in the St. Louis, Missouri area – where Monsanto was headquartered for decades before its acquisition in June 2018 by Germany’s Bayer AG. Those two trials will be the first to go before jurors in Monsanto’s home town. Gordon’s case was supposed to go to trial in the area last August but was postponed, as were others set for the second half of 2019, as Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys initiated settlement talks.

It is still possible that some sort of settlement – individual case-specific, or larger – could happen before January, but the lawyers on both sides are preparing for a schedule that presents numerous logistical challenges. Each trial is expected to last several weeks, and not only are some lawyers involved in trying cases with overlapping trial schedules, but a small group of expert witnesses will be testifying in multiple cases taking place at the same time.

Three trials have taken place so far  in the sprawling mass tort litigation, which began in 2015 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified a chemical called glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with a particular association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Since the 1970s, glyphosate has been the active ingredient in Monsanto branded herbicides, and is currently considered the most widely used herbicide in the world.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say that the current line-up of cases represent even stronger claims for damages than the prior three trials.  “These are very strong cases,” said lawyer Aimee Wagstaff, who represents Gordon. In March, Wagstaff client Edwin Hardeman won an $80 million jury verdict from a San Francisco jury in his lawsuit against Monsanto.

For the Gordon case, Wagstaff has subpoenaed former Monsanto chairman Hugh Grant to testify live at the trial. Grant has thus far only testified through deposition and not had to testify in front of a jury; nor have other high-level Monsanto executives because the trials were held in California. But with the trial in St. Louis, plaintiffs’ lawyers are hoping to get some Monsanto scientists and executives on the stand for questioning. Grant’s attorneys have objected the making him appear in person, and both sides are awaiting a ruling on that matter.

In the most recent trial to take place, a jury in Oakland, California ordered Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion in damages to Alberta and Alva Pilliod, a married couple who both suffer from NHL they blame on exposure to Roundup.  The first trial ended in August 2018 when jurors in state court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million  in damages to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who has been diagnosed with a terminal type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  The judges in all three of those cases ruled that the awards were excessive and reduced the damage amounts, though the verdicts are currently under appeal.

More than 42,000 people  in the United States are now suing Monsanto claiming that Roundup and other Monsanto’s herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits allege that the company was well aware of the dangers for many years but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record to protect company sales.

As Roundup cancer lawsuits surge, Monsanto fights to keep PR work secret

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As Monsanto continues to battle legal claims over alleged dangers of its widely used Roundup herbicides, the company is trying to block orders to turn over internal records about its work with public relations and strategic consulting contractors.

In a series of filings in St. Louis Circuit Court, Monsanto argues that it should not have to comply with discovery requests involving certain dealings between it and the global public relations firm FleishmanHillard, despite the fact that a special master has found Monsanto should hand those documents over. Monsanto is asserting that its communications with FleishmanHillard should be considered “privileged,” similar to attorney-client communications, and that Monsanto should not have to produce them as part of discovery to the lawyers representing the cancer patients suing Monsanto.

FleishmanHillard became the agency of record for Monsanto’s “corporate reputation work” in 2013, and its employees became deeply involved with the company, working “at Monsanto’s offices nearly every day” and gaining “access to online repositories of non-public confidential information,”  the company said. “The fact that some of these communications involve the creation of public messaging does not strip them of privilege,” Monsanto said in its court filing.

FleishmanHillard worked on two projects for Monsanto in Europe regarding re-registration of
glyphosate and worked with Monsanto lawyers on a “specific project for jury research.” The nature of the work done by the public relations firm “required privileged communications” with Monsanto’s legal counsel, the company said.

Earlier this year Monsanto owner Bayer AG said it was ending Monsanto’s relationship with FleishmanHillard after news broke that the public relations firm engaged in a Europe-wide data collection scheme for Monsanto, targeting journalists, politicians and other stakeholders to try to influence pesticide policy.

Monsanto has taken a similar position with respect to communications involving its work with corporate image management company FTI Consulting, which Monsanto hired in June 2016. “The absence of an attorney on a privileged document also does not automatically render that document susceptible to a privilege challenge,” Monsanto said in its filing.

Earlier this year, an FTI employee was caught impersonating a journalist at one of the Roundup cancer trials, trying to suggest story lines for other reporters to pursue that favored Monsanto.

The company also wants to avoid handing over documents involving its relationship with Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which has been marketing and selling Monsanto’s Roundup lawn and garden products since 1998.

More than 40,000 cancer victims or their family members are now suing Monsanto blaming exposure to the company’s line of Roundup herbicides for their diseases, according to Bayer. The lawsuits allege that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that though Monsanto knew about the cancer risks, it intentionally did not warn consumers.

Bayer held a conference call with investors Wednesday to discuss its third quarter results and to update shareholders on the Roundup litigation.  Striking a reassuring tone, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said that while investors might be surprised at the high number of lawsuits, it is “actually not that surprising.” He said plaintiffs’ attorneys in the United States have been spending tens of millions of dollars advertising for clients.

“This increase in the number of lawsuits does not change our conviction of the safety profile of glyphosate and is by no means a reflection of the merits of this litigation,” Baumann said. Appeals are underway after the company lost the first three trials, and the company is “constructively” engaging in mediation, according to Baumann. Bayer will only agree to a settlement that is “financially reasonable” and will bring “reasonable closure to the overall litigation,” he said.

Though the company refers to it as “glyphosate” litigation, the plaintiffs allege that their cancers were not caused by exposure to glyphosate alone, but by exposure to glyphosate-based formulated products made by Monsanto.

Many scientific studies have shown that the formulations are much more toxic than glyphosate by itself. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not required long-term safety studies on Roundup formulations throughout the 40-plus years the products have been on the market, and internal company  communications between Monsanto scientists have been obtained by plaintiffs’ attorneys in which the scientists discuss the lack of carcinogenicity testing for Roundup products.

Multiple trials that were scheduled for this fall in the St. Louis, Missouri area have been delayed until next year.