A state court judge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has refused to recuse himself from a key Risperdal lawsuit, just weeks after Johnson & Johnson and it’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit were ordered to pay $8 billion in punitive damages to a Maryland man who blames the powerful antipsychotic drug for causing his gynecomastia.
“The bottom line is you have to take some responsibility for an $8 billion verdict by looking at the way the case was tried,” Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Powell told defense counsel during a 90-minute hearing on Wednesday, according to The Legal Intelligencer. “Particularly opening and closing statements. Look at the speechifying by your counsel, and putting [on the stand] witnesses who would not answer questions.”
Powell had overseen the punitive damages portion of a Risperdal trial involving Nicholas Murray, who was prescribed the medication off-label for Asperger’s Syndrome in 2003. Murray went on to develop gynecomastia, a condition marked by the development of female-like breasts in men and boys.
In November 2015, another jury awarded Murray $680,000 in compensatory damages, after finding that Johnson & Johnson and Janssen had failed to provide adequate warnings regarding Risperdal’s potential to cause gynecomastia. But he and other plaintiffs in the Risperdal mass tort program underway in Philadelphia were initially prevented from pursuing punitive damages when the trial judge determined that New Jersey law should apply to their cases.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court later reversed that decision, ruling that plaintiffs should have the opportunity to pursue punitive damages under the laws of their home state. Murray was ultimately granted another trial on punitive damages, which concluded earlier this month when the new jury awarded him $8 billion.
Murray’s Risperdal verdict was the largest so far in a mass tort litigation that includes nearly 7,000 similar cases. The judgment is also the largest awarded by a Pennsylvania jury since 1994.
In a post-trial Motion for Recusal, Johnson & Johnson claimed that Judge Powell had shown bias towards the plaintiff by posing for photos and high-fiving jurors at the conclusion of the case. But Judge Powell maintained that the high-five allegations were “concocted” and even suggested Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys should be subjected to disciplinary action for making the claims. He also insisted the photos were taken as jurors celebrated the end of a long trial, not the verdict itself, and were not unique to this particular case.
“I don’t operate that way, and you know that,” Powell said to defense counsel. “I can’t walk down the hall without someone saying, ‘hey judge,’ as if to high-five me.”
While Judge Powell ultimately denied Johnson & Johnson’s recusal request, he is still considering a defense motion to reduce the Risperdal verdict.