The seemingly never ending saga of the Stewart Dolin Paxil suicide trial (Dolin v. SmithKline Beecham Corp. et al., case number 1:12-cv-06403) has taken another twist this week with news that the original presiding Judge, James B. Zagel, has been replaced by Judge William T. Hart. It's not known, at this point, why Zagel has taken a back seat. Best not to speculate, I guess.
It also appears that GSK's attorneys have now brought on board Chilton Davis Varner (pictured above) who, by all accounts, is a big gun at King & Spalding. Varner has 30 years of courtroom experience as a trial lawyer defending the likes of GSK in litigation.
Varner has, in the past, been highlighted in the hugely popular attorney targeted online publication, Law360. They write that she is described by collegues as a"velvet hammer." Adding that...
In the courtroom, Varner isn't like a television lawyer. She doesn't angrily confront witnesses on cross-examination or shout, "Objection!" Rather, she focuses on delivering information succinctly to juries in a calm voice, never losing her cool or using emotional displays to get a rise out of jurors.
It's a distinct style that's earned several victories for client Merck in litigation over its Fosamax osteoporosis drug's risk of femur fractures for some users, including the dismissal of more than 600 plaintiffs, and landed her a place among Law360's Trial Aces.
"She's a legend in this space," Andy Bayman, head of King & Spalding's life sciences and health care practice, told Law360. "It gives you just a great sense of confidence and comfort knowing that she's trying the case with you. She anticipates what's coming."
Bayman has worked with Varner for 26 years and said one of her gifts is bringing people in a jury who might be more sympathetic to an ordinary plaintiff who's been hurt or sick around to siding with a major corporation.
"We come in a lot of times with the deck stacked against us. She does a really good job of humanizing our clients," he said.
And she doesn't get visibly aggressive in the courtroom, instead calmly presenting her case using simple graphics and a library of facts she's prepared in anticipation of what might happen in trial that day, according to Bayman.
"Her style is to kill them with kindness," he said. "She couldn't ... be effective if she tried to take on some kind of bulldog persona. She's like a velvet hammer."
We can draw our own conclusions as to why King & Spalding have brought her on board. Personally, I believe GSK have saw a gap with Zagel removing himself as Judge, a gap that will, no doubt, further delay the process for Stewart Dolin's widow, Wendy, who is suing GSK for failing to warn her husband that Paxil could induce suicide. Thus far King & Spalding has shown their teeth to Stewart Dolin's widow, Wendy, in as much that they have subpoenaed her cellphone and text message records, her home phone and her late husband's company phone records. Furthermore, Wendy has claimed in her motion that King & Spalding has, so far, sent more than 30 subpoenas and over 70 records requests, and shown the Dolin children Stewart Dolin's confidential therapy notes despite Wendy Dolin's objections. King & Spalding has also taken hours of deposition testimony from her and grilled her about her personal medical information and her romantic life since her husband's death, according to her motion.
Maybe hiring Varner will see a more softly-softly approach by the King & Spalding law team? I wouldn't hold your breath though folks. It's my assumption that Varner has been brought in to persuade the new judge to reconsider judgements already laid down by his predecessor, Judge Zagel. New judge, new approach by the defence - kinda makes sense, even if it does induce vomit.
To date, GSK via King & Spalding have had motion after motion denied by former judge (Zagel) - this gap in the window will be a chance for Varner to flex her muscles (or maybe pout her lips and speak softly)
Meantime, Dolin's attorneys, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, have prepared for trial and intend to show, amongst other things, the following...
- GSK became aware of the Paxil suicide risk in 1989 but concealed and manipulated the risk. This despite the studies showing an eight-times greater likelihood that a patient on Paxil versus placebo would attempt suicide.
- That GSK published a medical journal article based on the manipulated data and told its sales-force to disseminate the article amongst healthcare professionals who had concerns regarding the Paxil/suicide link.
- In August 2007, despite clinical trial data that showed the opposite, GSK issued a label for Paxil that stated "Short-term studies did not show an increase in the risk of suicidality with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults beyond age 24."
Stewart Dolin died by suicide by jumping in front of a CTA train at a Blue Line station in the Loop on Thursday, July 15, 2010.
Back stories to this case are below.
DOLIN V GSK (Fiddaman Articles)