CHARLESTON – U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin resolved a dispute among 125 lawyers around the nation by choosing Harry Bell of Charleston to coordinate lawsuits against companies that made heart medicine Digitek.
Goodwin, who in August took responsibility for Digitek suits from seven federal courts, picked Bell as liaison counsel on Sept. 26, after the attorneys failed to agree on a leader.
Goodwin appointed Fred Thompson, of Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, S.C., as Bell's co-counsel.
Goodwin had asked the lawyers to nominate three candidates, but they couldn't do it.
Goodwin wrote that "barriers have arisen to the desired level of cooperation and collegiality originally envisioned by the court."
He wrote that he expected the lawyers to "devote their best efforts toward cooperation and positive interaction."
Bell offered no details of the dispute.
"Any time you have multi district litigation you have competing suits and different strategies of lawyers on all sides," he said. "You might have hundreds of lawyers from around the country, and trying to keep all those in check can be challenging."
He said Goodwin's appointment pleased and flattered him.
"It's a position with a great deal of responsibility and I appreciate the trust the court has placed in me in that regard," he said. "It's my nature and personality to try to be reasonable and get along with people."
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of Digitek in April, after doctors reported adverse effects.
Digitek contains digitalis, a powerful heart stimulant.
After the recall, patients filed 14 suits against Mylan Pharmaceuticals, of West Virginia, and Actavis Group, of Illinois, in federal courts of West Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio.
The U. S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation combined the suits for discovery purposes and assigned them to Goodwin.
Multi district jurisdiction extends only to discovery. For trials, the panel sends all suits back to the courts where they began.
Goodwin will test the cooperation of the lawyers again. He has asked them to select a plaintiff steering committee by Oct. 20.
He set an initial conference Oct. 10, at the federal courthouse in Charleston.
Along with Bell, William Bands and Tim Yianne of Bell and Bands also represent Digitek plaintiffs. So do David Thomas, James Arnold and Rebecca Betts of Allen, Guthrie, McHugh and Thomas in Charleston. So do Teresa Toriseva, Kathy Brown and Barry Hill of Wheeling, and Carl Frankovitch of Weirton.
Other Digitek lawyers come from California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Alabama, South Carolina, Michigan, Colorado and Pennsylvania.