Closing arguments in the Vioxx trial were postponed until Monday after another round of protracted wrangling among the lawyers in the case.

The delay was the result of arguments over various motions, according to some of the lawyers, who spent the day haggling in Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee’s chambers, rather than in her courtroom.

Today, the two sides are expected to debate the content of the so-called jury verdict form, a set of questions the nine-person jury is expected to answer about Vioxx, heart attacks, liability and New Jersey law.

The legal jockeying comes near the end of the seventh week of a trial being held to determine whether Vioxx caused a Boise, Idaho, postal worker to suffer a heart attack four years ago.

Frederick “Mike” Humeston, a Vietnam veteran, took Vioxx for less than three months to alleviate knee pain. His attorneys charge that Merck promoted the drug despite knowing about cardiovascular risks.

For its part, the Whitehouse Station-based drugmaker argues Vioxx was tested properly and clinical-trial data was provided to the Food and Drug Administration, which approved the medicine.

Merck withdrew Vioxx a year ago after citing a study that showed links to heart attacks and strokes after 18 months of continuous use. As of last week, some 6,400 lawsuits have been filed around the country.

Opening arguments are expected to last one day. It remains unclear how long the jury may deliberate, with predictions among lawyers involved in the case ranging from a few hours to a day or two.

In a related development, the judge overseeing thousands of Vioxx lawsuits in federal court said yesterday that an effort by plaintiffs’ lawyers to keep their cases in state courts was “counterproductive” to resolving all the claims.

“There’s a movement afoot to work outside” multi-district litigation in federal court, U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon told lawyers at a status conference in Houston. “I think that’s counterproductive.”

Multi-district litigation is intended to streamline trial preparations when multitudes of lawsuits are filed on similar issues. But plaintiffs’ lawyers Mark Lanier of Houston and Perry Weitz of New York say they have assembled a legal “dream team” of 10 law firms and 350 lawyers to push all future Vioxx lawsuits into state courts. Federal courts are generally considered more defense-friendly.

The first federal Vioxx trial opens Nov. 28 in Houston.



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