A Texas federal judge asked two FBI agents and a federal prosecutor to interview witnesses about possible tampering in a bellwether trial involving Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics’ hip implants. The request was made after a plaintiffs’ attorney accused the pharmaceutical company’s attorneys of indirectly pressuring a doctor for the plaintiffs.
“This is a serious matter that requires – you know – serious treatment and has serious ramifications,” said U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of the Northern District of Texas during the hearing, adding he wouldn’t jump to conclusions but, “it is certainly disturbing and disconcerting to me.”
The issue arose after orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Shein filed an affidavit stating a DePuy sales representative told him on Oct. 13 – days before he was to testify on behalf of plaintiffs suing DePuy – that “there could be ramifications” for the doctor’s medical practice regarding his upcoming testimony in the hip implant trial. Shen said that the rep was clearly upset when he informed the doctor that the firm’s attorneys were pressuring him to intimidate and influence the doctor.
When the plaintiffs attorney learned about the information in the affidavit, he told Judge Kinkeade the doctor would not be testifying. Judge Kinkeade immediately called for an investigation and recommended DePuy’s attorneys obtain legal counsel as the issue is a “serious matter that requires serious treatment and has serious ramifications.”
If the investigation uncovers witness tampering as alleged by plaintiffs’ attorneys, DePuy’s lawyers could face state or federal criminal charges, ethical grievances and other possible sanctions.
The parties were about a month into the fourth bellwether trial in a multidistrict litigation involving more than 9,000 cases accusing DePuy of manufacturing and selling defective metal-on-metal hip replacement implants.