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Hoffmann-La Roche Seeks to Disqualify Judge Carol Higbee

Hoffmann-La Roche’s counsel sought recusal of New Jersey Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee, the judge assigned to New Jersey’s years-long, multicounty litigation over its acne medication Accutane.

Higbee suspended a bellwether trial to sit on a panel along with the Accutane plaintiffs’ lead counsel, David Buchanan of Seeger Weiss in Newark, during which she “directly addressed this litigation and legal issues relevant to it,” Griffinger said. She referenced a $25 million verdict in one bellwether trial and “commented on the lack of settlements in these cases,” he added.

“The very appearance on a panel with the lead Plaintiffs’ lawyer, during his trial against Roche, creates an appearance of partiality,” he wrote, adding that Higbee and Buchanan had ex parte discussions about the trial in preparation for the event.

Griffinger alleged that Higbee also openly criticized La Roche’s legal strategy — citing remarks that “the defense would be better off trying trials to win, as opposed to trying them for appeal” — opined on the credibility of La Roche witnesses “for no valid reason” while commenting favorably on plaintiffs’ witnesses, and indicated bias against pharmaceutical defendants based on earlier mass litigation regarding Merck’s anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx.

Expression of these opinions “is improper regardless of whether those opinions were or were not expressed in front of a jury,” Griffinger wrote.

Both Higbee and Buchanan declined to comment on the matter.

This situation obviously raises concerns for legal education panels and the ability to recruit judges to speak on these panels.  However, in this instance, Judge Higbee may have crossed the line.  We anxiously await the court’s decision on the motion for recusal.

Hat tip to The Legal Intelligencer.  The full article can be found here:

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