Drug Companies Want Judge To Recuse Himself From Federal Opioid Trial

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, seen here in a file image from in a March interview at a naturalization ceremony, is overseeing more than 2,000 lawsuits over the opioid crisis.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, seen here in a file image from in a March interview at a naturalization ceremony, is overseeing more than 2,000 lawsuits over the opioid crisis. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

A group of drug companies is pushing for U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to recuse himself from the wide-reaching array of local government lawsuits over the opioid crisis, objecting to the judge’s push for settlements. 

Attorneys for Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and other drug makers and distributors filed the motion Saturday morning in federal court in Cleveland. 

They question Polster’s impartiality, saying his support for a settlement and his court’s involvement in negotiations should disqualify him from presiding over the first trial in the case, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 21. 

“Both the Court’s declaration of a personal objective to do something meaningful to abate the opioid crisis and its many public comments about the litigation in interviews and public appearances independently warrant disqualification,” the attorneys wrote in their filing. 

As evidence, the filing cites statements Polster has made from the bench, as well as his decision to discuss the case in public and with national news outlets. 

“In my humble opinion, everyone shares some of the responsibility, and no one has done enough to abate it,” Polster said in a January 2018 hearing cited in the drug companies’ filing. “That includes the manufacturers, the distributors, the pharmacies, the doctors, the federal government and state government, local governments, hospitals, third-party payors and individuals. Just about everyone we’ve got on both sides of the equation in this case.”

United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred the cases into Polster’s court in December 2017. The litigation now involves some 2,000 plaintiffs, including cities, counties and Native American tribes. 

Polster has encouraged a settlement from the start. This past week, he approved a proposal by plaintiffs’ attorneys to create a special class allowing cities and counties across the country to benefit from potential drug company payouts. State attorneys general, who have filed their own suits against drug companies in state courts, opposed the plan. 

Earlier this month, lead attorneys for the plaintiffs announced that Purdue Pharma was close to a settlement in the federal case. Endo, Allergan and Mallinckrodt have reached settlements with Summit and Cuyahoga Counties, the first local governments to take their case to trial in October. 

Attorneys for the plaintiffs released a statement Saturday morning praising Polster and calling the attempt to remove him a “desperate move” by the drug industry. 

“It’s past time that they stop trying to avoid accountability and face judgment,” the statement reads.

Polster has not yet responded to the filing in court. 

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