There were fireworks in the courtroom this morning as Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee came down hard on Merck’s legal team for trying to get around court rules on testimony.
The day before, the plaintiff’s attorney, Chris Seeger, made a motion to strike some testimony from Merck’s lead witness, Briggs Morrison, a vice president for research. Seeger argued Morrison went too far in discussing the results of certain Vioxx studies, since he was not sworn in as an expert witness.
In issuing her ruling on the motion this morning, the normally mild-mannered judge turned red-faced. She said she stayed in her chambers late last night to review transpcripts of the testimony and relevant case law, and came to the conclusion Merck’s legal team allowed Morrison to go too far in his testimony.
“Morrison was to testify what Merck knew and didn’t know about Vioxx, and what he meant by an e-mail he wrote. But it went way beyond that,” Higbee said.
The judge continued, “I felt sick yesterday afternoon and sick last night. … I feel I was misled repeatedly yesterday during that testimony. And because I was misled, I allowed in things I shouldn’t have let in.”
“It doesn’t make me angry; it makes me sad.”
Higbee continued lecturing Merck’s lawyers, saying, “It’s not a free-for-all—you don’t just get to throw anything you want in the pot. … There has to be fair dealings.”
In the end, she struck from the record all of Morrison’s testimony and said he was not allowed to return to the stand.
In response, Merck lawyer Diane Sullivan stood up to protest the judge’s remarks, calling them unfair. At least five times, Higbee ordered Sullivan to sit down.