NYT Declined Zyprexa Court Invitation_Secrecy’s Dangerous SideEffects

The New York Times declined Judge Jack Weinstein's invitation to explain in
court how he got Zyprexa documents.
A lawyer noted: "The judge's responses could range from ordering Mr.
Berenson to appear in court to dropping the issue and lifting his protective
order."
 
Richard Zitrin, a California lawyer, discusses in the Los Angeles Times
just how harmful are secret settlements such as the one Eli Lilly is
fighting to maintain. So far Lilly has paid $1.2 billion in two consolidated
mass federal settlements in which a committee of plaintiffs' lawyers agreed
to a "protective order" that kept all the information secret. "That may have
expedited things for their clients, but it was a public disservice."

The plaintiffs had to agree "not to communicate, publish or cause to be
published, in any public or business forum or context, any statement,
whether written or oral, concerning the specific events, facts or
circumstances giving rise to [their] claims."
 
Zitrin notes that "courts have the power to grant protective orders only to
limit the disclosure of highly personal information and legitimate trade
secrets. But when all the lawyers in a case agree, judges often grant
protection even if the trade secrets in question show how the product does
not work, not how it does. Neither lawyers nor judges should ever be party
to such agreements. It is simply unacceptable as a matter of public policy
to permit secret deals that conceal evidence of dangers to the public."

Aw we know, the Zyprexa documents were exposed when Alaska attorney James B.
Gottstein, working on an entirely unrelated case, subpoenaed the records of
one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses.

"Gottstein not only used the documents in his lawsuit but, to his great
credit, disclosed them to the New York Times and several healthcare groups."

By the time Gottstein was ordered to return all the documents he had, the
train had left the station: The New York Times published articles about the
dangers of Zyprexa, and excerpts from the documents began appearing on the
Internet."

"Within two weeks, with much of the Zyprexa evidence now out in the open,
Lilly settled the additional 18,000 cases. Negotiated secrecy, Lilly's
primary goal, had become moot."

Moot though the issues is–as the documents have continued to surfaced on
the internet–the injunction prohibiting their dissemination, issued on
January 4, 2007, is still in place.

See: AHRP motion of January 23 requesting lifting of injunction:
http://www.thejabberwock.org/blog/motion2.pdf
See: Judge Weinstein's response to motion, January 25:
http://psychrights.org/States/Alaska/CaseXX/EilLilly/1-25-07OrderReDeclassifyProcedures.pdf

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
212-595-8974
veracare@ahrp.org

 http://www.nysun.com/article/48135
THE SUN
Paper Refuses Judge's Request That Its Reporter Appear
BY JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN –
February 7, 2007

The New York Times is declining a federal judge's request that one of its
reporters appear in court today to explain how he got front-page scoops
about the internal communications of a pharmaceutical company.

The judge, Jack Weinstein of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, had asked the
reporter, Alex Berenson, to testify voluntarily about how he obtained the
documents, which reportedly discuss health risks connected to the Eli Lilly
drug Zyprexa. In the invitation to Mr. Berenson, Judge Weinstein suggests
that the reporter engaged in "a conspiracy to obtain and publish" the
Zyprexa documents.

Judge Weinstein, who is overseeing several lawsuits against Eli Lilly by
users of the drug, had placed the documents under a protective order.
In a letter dated Monday, a Times attorney, George Freeman, told Judge
Weinstein that Mr. Berenson would not be appearing in his courtroom today.
"As a matter of long-held principle, we believe that it would be
inappropriate for any of our journalists voluntarily to testify about news
gathering methods at the Times," Mr. Freeman wrote.

Mr. Berenson received the Eli Lilly documents from an attorney in Alaska who
had subpoenaed them from an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Zyprexa
lawsuits.

Judge Weinstein has not signaled how he will proceed, a lawyer involved in
the case, Edward Hayes, said.
The judge's responses could range from ordering Mr. Berenson to appear in
court to dropping the issue and lifting his protective order.

http://tinyurl.com/39carb
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
 Secrecy's dangerous side effects
When legal settlements allow companies to hide their mistakes, what we don't
know can hurt us.
By Richard Zitrin
February 8, 2007

 RICHARD ZITRIN practices law in San Francisco and teaches at UC Hastings
College of the Law. He is also the founder of the
Center for Applied Legal Ethics at the University of San Francisco.

DRUG GIANT Eli Lilly & Co. recently settled 18,000 lawsuits brought by
people claiming they were injured by the side effects of its biggest-selling
drug, Zyprexa, which is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
But the $500 million in settlements says less about the dangers of the drug
than the dangers of secrecy.

About 18 months earlier, Lilly had settled 8,000 other Zyprexa cases for
$700 million. But those settlements required the plaintiffs to return all
sensitive documents obtained through the legal discovery process to Lilly –
a requirement that kept the strongest smoking-gun evidence out of public
view. The plaintiffs also had to agree "not to communicate, publish or cause
to be published, in any public or business forum or context, any statement,
whether written or oral, concerning the specific events, facts or
circumstances giving rise to [their] claims."

Lilly had strong motivation to settle. The documents contained evidence that
Zyprexa caused large, often enormous, weight gain in many patients,
significantly increasing the risk of dangerously high blood-sugar levels and
diabetes. They also showed that Lilly knew about the problems in 1999,
largely through its own research. Other documents outlined a marketing
scheme to encourage physicians to prescribe Zyprexa for elderly patients
with early signs of dementia. This strategy not only had no clinical
evidence to support it, it promoted an "off-label" use not approved by the
Food and Drug Administration, a violation of federal law.

Lilly gave the original 8,000 plaintiffs ample incentive to settle. Those
plaintiffs received substantial compensation, and by agreeing to secrecy,
they surely avoided years of scorched-earth litigation, extremely costly in
terms of time, money and emotion.

When secrecy is the price of a legal settlement, wrongdoers hide their
mistakes as if they never happened and continue with business as usual.
That's what happened in the Lilly case. The thousands of plaintiffs and
dozens of lawyers involved in the 2005 settlements kept their part of the
bargain, while Lilly continued to sell Zyprexa in huge quantities – a
reported $4.2 billion in sales in 2005 – without warning either patients or
doctors about the drug's dangers.

Part of the problem was that those plaintiffs had little control over their
cases. They were consolidated – as these matters often are – in one huge
federal case in which a committee of plaintiffs' lawyers has much more say
over a settlement than in typical civil suits. In exchange for access to key
Zyprexa data in the Lilly case, the committee agreed to a "protective order"
that kept the information secret. That may have expedited things for their
clients, but it was a public disservice.

Courts have the power to grant protective orders only to limit the
disclosure of highly personal information and legitimate trade secrets. But
when all the lawyers in a case agree, judges often grant protection even if
the trade secrets in question show how the product does not work, not how it
does. Neither lawyers nor judges should ever be party to such agreements. It
is simply unacceptable as a matter of public policy to permit secret deals
that conceal evidence of dangers to the public.

In the Zyprexa cases, the documents eventually were exposed when Alaska
attorney James B. Gottstein, working on an entirely unrelated case,
subpoenaed the records of one of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses. Gottstein
not only used the documents in his lawsuit but, to his great credit,
disclosed them to the New York Times and several healthcare groups.
Gottstein was almost immediately ordered to return all the documents he had,
but the train had left the station: The New York Times published articles
about the dangers of Zyprexa, and excerpts from the documents began
appearing on the Internet. Within two weeks, with much of the Zyprexa
evidence now out in the open, Lilly settled the additional 18,000 cases.
Negotiated secrecy, Lilly's primary goal, had become moot.

Some intrepid plaintiffs and their lawyers refuse to play the secrecy game.
In Northern California, plaintiffs in dozens of Catholic Church sexual abuse
cases have banded together and refused to keep the names and whereabouts of
molesters secret. And recently, Eva Rowe, who lost her parents as the result
of an explosion at a Texas oil refinery in 2005, refused to settle with BP
unless the oil company agreed to release the millions of documents obtained
as evidence. Rowe and her lawyer hope that the documents, which they say
show how BP's under-funding and lackadaisical attitude created significant
safety problems, will serve as an industry blueprint on how refinery safety
should, and shouldn't, be handled.

Unfortunately, disclosure is still the exception. But we should have learned
our lesson by now. From Zomax and Halcion in the 1980s to shredding
Firestone tires and GM gas-tank fires in the 1990s, to Vioxx and Zyprexa
today, when lawyers cut secret deals behind the public's back, what we don't
know can and does hurt us. The civil justice system belongs to all of us,
and no one should be allowed to use it to keep the public in the dark.

 

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