The U.S. judge overseeing the more than 1,800 lawsuits claiming damages from popular painkiller Vioxx has temporarily relocated to Houston, according to the Houston federal court clerk’s office.

Judge Eldon Fallon and several of his staff moved over to Houston late last week after Hurricane Katrina flooded downtown New Orleans, where Fallon’s court is located, Houston Chief Deputy Clerk David Bradley said.

“The venue is not being transferred to Houston,” Bradley said. “He is going to be managing it temporarily from here until he has someplace to go.”

U.S. judges from one federal district court cannot rule on cases in another federal district court, he said.

Vioxx was a popular painkiller made by Merck & Co. (MRK.N: Quote, Profile, Research) that was pulled from the market last year when research showed it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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