A Las Vegas judge has granted a request for sanctions against defense lawyers who have violated court orders and repeatedly engaged in disrespectful behavior during an ongoing civil trial in her courtroom.
In an order filed Wednesday, District Judge Kerry Earley ruled that lawyers representing Takeda Pharmaceuticals had violated her pretrial evidentiary rulings nine times during the trial.
“In addition, defense counsel has repeatedly engaged in disruptive and disrespectful behavior towards the court, which is well-documented in the record,” the judge wrote. “As a result, the court’s decision to impose sanctions is based on the aforementioned cumulative conduct of counsel in disobeying court orders and disrupting court proceedings.”
Rejecting more severe punishments, the judge decided that an appropriate sanction would be a jury instruction aimed at curing any prejudice suffered by the plaintiffs because of the defense attorneys’ behavior. The instruction will be read to jurors before closing arguments in the case.
The trial, which began with jury selection on Feb. 10, stems from lawsuits filed by two women who were diagnosed with bladder cancer after taking the diabetes drug Actos. Takeda, a Japanese company, makes the prescription drug pioglitazone under the trade name Actos.
Attorney David Wall, who represents one of the plaintiffs, accused Takeda’s lawyers of intentionally engaging in misconduct to cause a mistrial in the case.
Takeda attorney Joel Henriod argued that most of the alleged misconduct occurred early in the trial, when the defense lawyers were in a “learning process.” He also argued that Earley had not issued “typical orders.”
“While it is clear that this matter involves complex, nuanced issues in civil litigation, the parties are represented by some of the best and most experienced trial attorneys in the country,” the judge wrote in her order. “Consequently, the court will not accept, as an excuse to misconduct, any claims that attorneys of this caliber are somehow ignorant of the law or otherwise unfamiliar with the way in which well-established legal principles are applied during trial.”
Earley noted that repeated violations of her orders had forced the plaintiffs’ lawyers to make frequent objections and requests for bench conferences during the trial.
Their “proactive and timely objections” have prevented the jury from hearing inadmissible evidence, according to the judge’s most recent order, but likely have caused the jury to believe the plaintiffs’ lawyers are “hiding evidence, disrupting the proceedings, prolonging the trial, or wasting the jury’s time.”
Earley opted to write a jury instruction “tailored to cure any improper influence” caused by the frequent objections. According to her order, the instruction will explain “the nature and necessity of trial objections” and instruct the jury “not to view plaintiffs’ counsel in a negative light because of the objections.”
The order also indicates that Earley will impose monetary sanctions for any future violations of her orders, and she reserved the right to remove any attorney from the case “should his or her professional misconduct rise to the level of intentional, extreme, vexatious or egregious behavior.”
Complaints about misconduct in the case primarily have centered around Takeda attorneys D’Lesli Davis and Kelly Evans.
The plaintiffs plan to seek a multibillion-dollar verdict against the pharmaceutical company.