Roche (RHHBY) Slammed by Judge for Recusal Request
3/6/2013 8:20:16 AM
In rather stark terms, a New Jersey state court judge recently rejected a request by attorneys for Roche who accused her of bias in long-running and sprawling litigation over the Accutane acne medication. And in her remarks, Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee maintains that she has worked hard to appear even-handed despite several instances in which actions by the Roche legal team have raised “serious concerns” and tried her patience. The drugmaker, which is defending more than 7,700 lawsuits charging the risks associated with the acne medication were not properly disclosed, had asked Higbee to recuse herself over an alleged pattern of comments and decisions in which she has “unjustifiably prejudged Roche as a corporate defendant that is underhanded and not credible.” Although the Roche motion and Higbee ruling make for interesting and sometimes amusing reading, the nasty spat has brought into the open longstanding frustration defense attorneys have had with the state court system in New Jersey, where countless lawsuits have been filed against drugmakers over the years. In fact, the Superior Court of Atlantic County, where Higbee works, was given the No. 4 position in the annual ranking of judicial hellholes – or unfair jurisdictions – as compiled by the American Tort Reform Association in 2008. This occurred in the midst of the litigation over the Vioxx painkiller over which Higbee presided. But why does Roche believe Higbee is biased? The Roche lawyers implied that Higbee has been irked because she has overseen seven Accutane trials and the outcomes have either been reversed for retrial or in favor of the drugmaker, while another is on appeal. There was also an inference Higbee is frustrated the cases have not settled, a contention she denied. In any event, the Roche lawyers insisted her “bias” was on display in several ways.