Merck & Co. wants to delay the first wrongful death trial over its pain reliever Vioxx, arguing that it cannot receive a fair trial if the Texas case begins next week as scheduled.

The company wants the trial postponed for at least 60 days, citing recent publicity about the drug. Merck withdrew the drug in September when research showed that patients who took it for 18 months or longer more than doubled their risk for heart attack and stroke. Since then, more than 2,400 Vioxx lawsuits have been filed nationwide.

A hearing on Merck’s motion was slated for Tuesday in Wharton, Texas. Mark Lanier, a Houston attorney for a woman suing New Jersey-based Merck over her husband’s 2001 death, said he will oppose a delay.

In the motion, which was filed Friday, Merck said a lawsuit brought Thursday by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott seeking $250 million in damages for Vioxx purchases has “effectively eliminated any possibility Merck can receive a fair trial beginning July 11.”

It also noted that a law firm which helped the attorney general’s office on the lawsuit represents at least six plaintiffs suing the company.

“The timing of the (state) lawsuit is hardly a coincidence,” according to Merck’s motion.

The filing also said a story in the “national media” which cited a privileged attorney-client communication could prejudice a jury against it. The Associated Press reported June 22 that Merck scientists had contacted company attorneys in 2000 about reformulating Vioxx over concerns it could cause negative cardiovascular side effects.

Lanier said Monday that Merck signed an agreement with him in May not to postpone the trial for any reason other than the health of the lead attorneys.

He also said he would oppose the motion for a delay because the story about the Texas attorney general’s lawsuit did not receive prominent coverage in the Houston Chronicle the region’s major newspaper and that the newspaper in Brazoria County did not publish the AP article. The suit is expected to be heard in that county, south of Houston.

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