CHARLESTON - U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin ruined holiday appetites of four leaders in national litigation over heart medicine Digitek, summoning them to chambers a day before Thanksgiving for private conversation about mutiny in their ranks.
On Nov. 24, Goodwin ordered Harry Bell of Charleston, Carl Frankovitch of Weirton, Teresa Toriseva of Wheeling, and Fred Thompson of Mount Pleasant, S.C., to report to him at 10 a.m. on Nov. 26.
He wrote that they would "discuss issues associated with the management and structure of the leadership for plaintiffs."
For three months, management and structure have seemed to cause Goodwin headaches.
He took national jurisdiction of discovery in Digitek cases by appointment of the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation in August.
Plaintiffs hold drug companies Mylan Pharmaceuticals and Actavis Group liable for damages from adverse effects of Digiek on their hearts.
Consolidation brought more than 100 lawyers to Goodwin's court, and from the group he needed to choose a liaison. He asked them to recommend three, but they couldn't. He tired of waiting, and on Sept. 26 he appointed Bell and Thompson as liaisons.
He wrote that "barriers have arisen to the desired level of cooperation and collegiality originally envisioned by the court."
He stressed his expectation "that the lawyers in this complex civil action will devote their best efforts toward cooperation and positive interaction."
Instead, they began competing for appointment as co-lead counsel and for seats on a plaintiff steering committee.
Toriseva applied for both. Louisiana lawyer Danny Becnel, representing among others the estate of his mother, objected to her application for co-lead counsel.
He wrote that Toriseva's terminations by two firms demonstrated her untrustworthiness. He moved to file an affidavit of Barry Hill of Wheeling describing how he fired her.
Becnel declared he had no problem with her application for the steering committee.
Neither Becnel's objection nor Hill's affidavit impressed Goodwin. He picked Toriseva as committee chair, omitted Becnel from the committee and rejected Hill's affidavit.
He chose Frankovitch as co-lead counsel.
Goodwin held his first status conference Nov. 19. Apparently it went badly, for he took an unusual step in hauling the leaders into chambers.
The order didn't indicate that defense lawyers would join the conversation.
The multi-district panel consolidates similar suits for pretrial discovery. For trial, every suit returns to the court where it began.
Goodwin started with 14 cases, and the pile keeps growing. On Nov. 12, the 70th case arrived by transfer from Arizona federal court.
Digitek lawyers come from West Virginia, California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Alabama, South Carolina, Michigan, Colorado and Pennsylvania.