Here’s a look at key players in the nation’s third Vioxx-related civil trial, and the first to go before a federal jury. The judge in the case declared a mistrial Monday because of a hung jury after about 18 hours of deliberations over three days.
- Evelyn Irvin Plunkett, 56. Widow of Richard “Dicky” Irvin, a 53-year-old manager of a wholesale seafood distributor in St. Augustine, Fla. He died in May 2001 after taking Vioxx for about a month to ease back pain. The couple was married about 30 years, and had four children. Plunkett is a retired school secretary. Other plaintiffs are the couple’s two youngest children, Richard Irvin III and Ashley Irvin.
- Jere Beasley, 69. Lead lawyer for Plunkett. Born in Tyler, Texas, and raised in Alabama, Beasley was the state’s lieutenant governor from 1971-1979 and filled in for Gov. George Wallace for 20 days in 1972 when Wallace was hospitalized for the shooting that left him disabled. Beasley founded his Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles law firm in Montgomery, Ala., after he lost a 1978 gubernatorial run. In late 2003 and early last year Beasley represented Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in the retrial of the state’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. in a dispute over royalties from natural gas wells and won an $11.9 billion verdict. A judge cut the amount to $3.6 billion, and the company is appealing. Beasley also was among 27 lawyers who secured a $300 million settlement from Monsanto Co. in a federal lawsuit over PCB contamination in Anniston, Ala.
- Andy Birchfield, 42. Co-lead counsel for Plunkett. A member of Beasley’s firm since 1996, Birchfield manages the firm’s mass torts section, which is handling cases involving Baycol, Rezulin, Celebrex, Bextra and hormone replacement therapy as well as Vioxx. Helped headline a conference on Vioxx for plaintiffs’ lawyers in Philadelphia last January where he told attendees, “The liability picture, from a corporate conduct standpoint, we feel, is very, very strong.”
- Phil Beck, 53. Lead lawyer for Vioxx maker Merck & Co. A partner at Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott in Chicago, Beck is a veteran litigator on behalf of corporations. He helped represent President Bush in the Florida “hanging chad” case during the disputed 2000 presidential election, and was the lead lawyer for Bayer Corp. in the nation’s first Baycol trial in Corpus Christi in 2003, where Bayer was cleared of ignoring research linking the cholesterol-lowering drug to dozens of deaths. He also represented the Justice Department in its historic antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. and guided a 2001 settlement of allegations that the company was an illegal monopoly that thwarted competition.
- Eldon Fallon, 66. The former trial lawyer has been on the federal bench in the Eastern District of Louisiana in his hometown of New Orleans since 1995. Nominated by President Clinton to be a federal judge. In February, a panel of federal judges who serve on the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation in Fort Myers, Fla. decided to transfer all pending federal Vioxx lawsuits to Fallon’s court so he could streamline trial preparations such as depositions and document preparation. Fallon will preside over three more federal Vioxx trials early next year and then meet with attorneys on both sides to gauge the possibility of crafting a global settlement of all federal Vioxx litigation. Since 2000 the judge has been handling pretrial proceedings in thousands of lawsuits involving the former heartburn drug Propulsid, withdrawn from the market by Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., part of Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, N.J.