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High Court ruling may hurt claims of talc link to cancer
Legal Business | 2017/06/21 09:00
A Supreme Court ruling this week could have a "chilling effect" on the many lawsuits filed in St. Louis claiming talcum powder causes a deadly form of cancer in women, including cases under appeal in which stricken women and their survivors have been awarded more than $300 million, experts said Tuesday.

Justices ruled 8-1 Monday that hundreds of out-state-residents can't sue Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in California state court over adverse reactions to the blood thinner Plavix. It followed a similar ruling in May related to out-of-state injury claims against BNSF Railway Co. Both were seen as wins for companies opposed to "venue shopping," in which those filing suit seek out favorable state courts.

Almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison declared a mistrial in a Missouri state court case in which three plaintiffs, two from out-of-state, sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming its talcum powder caused ovarian cancer.

More than 1,000 others have filed similar lawsuits in St. Louis against Johnson & Johnson, but most don't live in Missouri. Five trials have already taken place over the past 16 months. In four of those cases, jurors awarded more than $300 million combined.

Johnson & Johnson believes that the Supreme Court ruling "requires reversal of the talc cases that are currently under appeal in St. Louis," spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in an email. She said the ruling "makes it clear that Johnson & Johnson was wrongfully forced to defend itself in multiple trials in Missouri, a state with no connection to the plaintiffs."

Jim Onder, whose suburban St. Louis-based law firm is representing many women and survivors who filed suit, said Missouri is a proper venue because Johnson & Johnson, though based in New Jersey, uses a factory in Union, Missouri, to package and label talcum products.


In one state, abused animals get a legal voice in court
Legal Business | 2017/06/01 23:33
Many states have victim's advocates or child advocates, people in the judicial system who represent those affected by crime or abuse. Now, one state has created legal advocates for abused animals, an experiment being watched across the nation for signs of success.

There are eight approved volunteer advocates across Connecticut — seven lawyers and a UConn law professor, working with her students. It's up to a judge to decide whether to appoint one, but they can be requested by prosecutors or defense attorneys. In the first six months of the law, advocates have been appointed in five cases.

"Every state has the problem of overburdened courts that understandably prioritize human cases over animal cases in allocating resources," said University of Connecticut professor Jessica Rubin, a specialist in animal law. "Here's a way to help."

The American Kennel Club, though, opposed the legislation, saying it could result in confusion over who is responsible for an animal and limit the rights of animal owners, including in cases in which someone else is charged with the abuse.



Arkansas asks court to block order on execution drugs
Legal Business | 2017/04/02 17:04
Arkansas prison officials asked the state's highest court Friday to stay a judge's order that they must disclose more information about one of the drugs they plan to use in the executions of eight men over a 10-day period in April.

The attorney general's office asked the state Supreme Court to issue a stay of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's order requiring Arkansas to release copies of the package insert and labels for its supply of potassium chloride, one of the three drugs used in its lethal injection protocol.

The state said it had released the documents, but had redacted information on the labels that it says could lead to identification of the drug's supplier. Steven Shults, the attorney who sued the state for the information, declined to comment on the case Friday.

Shults' attorneys asked the court to deny the state's motion, saying there was no evidence that the information withheld would identify the drug's supplier.

The filing said releasing all of the information would give Shults "an unreviewable victory that will completely undermine and obviate the confidentiality provisions" of the state's lethal injection law.

Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining drugs. The state's 2015 lethal injection law keeps secret the source of the state's execution drugs.

The prison officials, who plan to execute eight inmates in a 10-day period next month before another one of the state's lethal drugs expires April 30, had refused to release packing slips that detail how the drugs are to be used. The Associated Press has previously used the labels to identify drugmakers whose products would be used in executions against their will. The AP renewed its request after the state acquired its potassium chloride in March, but was also rejected.



Political fights over Supreme Court seats nothing new
Legal Business | 2017/04/01 17:04
Wondering when Supreme Court nominations became so politically contentious? Only about 222 years ago — when the Senate voted down George Washington's choice for chief justice.

"We are in an era of extreme partisan energy right now. In such a moment, the partisanship will manifest itself across government, and there's no reason to think the nomination process will be exempt from that. It hasn't been in the past," University of Georgia law professor Lori Ringhand said.

This year's brouhaha sees Senate Democrats and Republicans bracing for a showdown over President Donald Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch. It's the latest twist in the political wrangling that has surrounded the high court vacancy almost from the moment Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.

Each side has accused the other of unprecedented obstruction. Republicans wouldn't even hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee. Democrats are threatening a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to overcome, to try to stop Gorsuch from becoming a justice. If they succeed, Republicans who control the Senate could change the rules and prevail with a simple majority vote in the 100-member body.

As she lays out in "Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings and Constitutional Change," the book she co-wrote, Ringhand said, "There were more rejected nominees in the first half of the nation's history than in the second half. That controversy has been partisan in many cases, back to George Washington."

"Confirmations have been episodically controversial," said Ringhand, who is the Georgia law school's associate dean. "The level of controversy has ebbed and flowed."

John Rutledge, a South Carolinian who was a drafter of the Constitution, was the first to succumb to politics. The Senate confirmed Rutledge as a justice in 1789, a post he gave up a couple of years later to become South Carolina's chief justice.

In 1795, Washington nominated Rutledge to replace John Jay as chief justice. By then, Rutledge had become an outspoken opponent of the Jay Treaty, which sought to reduce tensions with England. A year after ratifying the treaty, the Senate voted down Rutledge's nomination.


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