The Federal Vioxx cases took a major step forward on Friday when U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon selected a plaintiffs steering committee that includes an Alabama lawyer as co-lead counsel.

Merck & Co. took Vioxx off the market last year after it was linked to an increased risk of heart attack and strokes, opening the floodgates for over a thousand lawsuits.

A spot on the committee is coveted because its members navigate issues that can effect the outcome of the cases such as gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, choosing expert witnesses and developing overall strategy. They also meet with the judge and Mercks lawyers regularly.

The committee members also gain prestige which leads to more clients and potentially more money.

Interest in the case has been huge because the potential pay out anywhere from $4 billion to $30 billion.

There were 1.357 product liability lawsuits filed against Merck as of March 9, 2005 according to the papers the company filed with the court. Of those, 127 have been moved to Judge Fallon and more than 400 others are expected to wind up his court.

Fallon will handle all pretrial proceedings and then the cases will be returned to their original jurisdictions.

Co-lead counsels are Andy D. Birchfield Jr. of Montgomery, Ala., and Chris Seeger of New York City. They join Russ Herman of New Orleans, who is the liason counsel to the judge in making up the steering committees’ Executive Committee.

The other lawyers are: Richaed J. Arsenault of Alexandria, LA.; Elizabeth Cabraser of San Fransiscol Thomas R. Kline of Philidelphia.; Arnold Levin of Philadelphia.; Carlene Rhodes Lewis of Houston; Gerald E. Maunier of New Orleans; Troy A. Rafferty of Pensacola, Fla.; Drew Ranier of Lake Charles, La.; Mark P. Robinson Jr. of Newport Beach, Calif., and Christopher V. Tisi of Washington D.C.



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