Some drug companies facing more than 2,000 lawsuits over their alleged roles in the opioid epidemic are demanding that the federal judge overseeing the case step aside, questioning his impartiality because he has urged both sides to settle the case, reports the Washington Post. The request comes after rulings against the companies by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland in the trial slated to begin Oct. 21. “Defendants do not bring this motion lightly,” the lawyers wrote in a filing Saturday for some large drug distributors and retailers but no drug manufacturers. “Taken as a whole and viewed objectively, the record clearly demonstrates that recusal is necessary.” The lawyers say Polster has overstepped his authority and created the appearance of bias. They cited his statements encouraging settlement so that money for badly needed drug treatment and other services could go quickly to communities hard hit by the opioid epidemic.
With just two counties “seeking $8 billion in cash for so-called ‘abatement,’ the Court has determined that it, not a jury, has the discretion to decide how much money defendants may pay to government agencies for medical treatment and other addiction-related services and initiatives,” the drug companies wrote. Plaintiffs’ attorneys called the attempt to remove Polster a desperate move. The plaintiffs have demanded that drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers pay billions of dollars for damage they allegedly caused. Since 1999, more than 200,000 people have died of overdoses of prescription narcotics, and another 200,000 have died from overdoses of heroin and illegal fentanyl. Law professors called the defendants’ motion unusual and saw little chance it would succeed. The law authorizing large, consolidated cases like this one — called “multidistrict litigation” — explicitly recognizes that judges would use the opportunity to encourage settlements, said Prof. Carl Tobias of Richmond University School of Law.