Saturday, December 22, 2007
As an interesting follow-up to Howie’s November 10th post on the Vioxx Settlement, on December 17, 2007, some plaintiff’s lawyers filed an emergency motion requesting freedom to keep some of their clients outside the settlement. The settlement currently requires plaintiffs’ attorneys to recommend the settlement to 100% of their eligible clients and for 85% of plaintiffs to accept the deal.
The New York Times reports:
In an emergency motion to Judge Eldon E. Fallon of Federal District Court in New Orleans, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said the provision would prevent them from offering the best independent judgment for each client. Agreeing to the provision might open them to future lawsuits from disgruntled clients, they said.
"The settlement agreement, which allows Merck to dictate the advice a lawyer will offer, is improper in all states," the lawyers wrote in the motion, which was filed Monday.
Grant Kaiser, a Houston lawyer who represents about 1,800 plaintiffs, filed the motion. It was signed by 11 other firms that collectively represent another 4,200 plaintiffs — about 10 percent of all the people who have sued Merck over Vioxx. Mr. Kaiser declined to comment on the motion.
Merck and several large plaintiffs’ law firms agreed to the settlement last month as a way to resolve more than 50,000 claims from people who assert that Vioxx, a painkiller withdrawn from the market in 2004, caused them to suffer heart attacks and strokes. Merck had won most of the 18 suits that reached juries in both state and federal court.
The requirement that lawyers agree to recommend the deal to all their clients — and withdraw from representing those who do not agree — is a crucial part of the agreement.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys contend in their motion that:
Section 18.104.22.168 of the Settlement Agreement sets out one of these responsibilities. It requires each Enrolling Counsel to advise 100% of the lawyer’s eligible clients to participate in the Program and to affirm that the lawyer has done so in the Enrollment Form. No states’ law allows a lawyer to make a contractual commitment like this. Rule 2.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, a version of which is in force in every jurisdiction, requires every lawyer to give every client the benefit of the lawyer’s independent professional judgment and to render candid advice. The Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers also recognizes his duty. The essence of independent professional judgment is that each client must be counseled accordingly. As the ABA comment to Rule 2.1 puts it: "A client is entitled to straightforward advice expressing the lawyer’s honest assessment." ABA Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 2.1, Comment  (Fifth Ed.).
Accordingly, the emergency motion requests the following relief:
1. A declaration that the Settlement Agreement empowers the Court to modify provisions that are prohibited or unenforceable because they conflict with state bar rules in Texas and other states.
2. A revision of PTO 31 excising the affirmation relating to settlement participation from the Registration Affidavit and agreement to all terms of the settlement;
3. A declaration that § 22.214.171.124 is prohibited and unenforceable under the state bar rules of all states because it prevents lawyers from giving clients the benefit of their independent professional judgment and candid advice, as required by Rule 2.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
4. A declaration that § 126.96.36.199 is prohibited and unenforceable under the state bar rules of all states because it impermissibly restricts the right to practice law, in violation of Rule 5.6 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
5. To set a date certain by which final settlement payments shall be made and/or make other similar equitable provisions.
6. To declare that notwithstanding any provision of the Settlement Agreement purporting to require an assessment of "up to 8%," that as to counsel that entered contracts in compliance with PTO 19, those contracts shall be honored, binding, and controlling as to any assessment.
The docket number is 2:05-md-01657-EEF-DEK and the motion is document number 13105-2.