Here is a rundown of the principal players in the nation’s first Vioxx-related case to go to trial:
Carol Ernst, 60
Widow of Robert Ernst, a 59-year-old Wal-Mart produce manager and marathon runner who died in May 2001 after taking Vioxx for eight months to alleviate pain in his hands. The hospital secretary was a divorced mother of four when one of her daughters introduced her to Ernst four years before he died. The couple was married for 11 months.
Mark Lanier, 44
Ernst’s attorney. A graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law, Lanier began his career at Fulbright & Jaworski, the same firm he faced in the Vioxx trial, but later founded his Lanier Law Firm. Past wins include a $417 million verdict against Amoco Corp. in a contract dispute, and $115 million against the same company for 21 steelworkers in an asbestos case. He lost in Angleton, the same venue as the Vioxx trial 40 miles south of Houston, last year when he represented Kelly-Moore Paint Co. Inc. in an asbestos case against Union Carbide Corp.
Gerry Lowry, 46
A Merck attorney. A partner in Fulbright & Jaworski’s Houston office, Lowry is a veteran litigator on behalf of corporations. She represented Bayer Corp. in the nation’s first Baycol trial in Corpus Christi in 2003, where Bayer Corp. was cleared of ignoring research linking the cholesterol-lowering drug to dozens of deaths. Her products liability defense work has involved contraceptive devices, anesthetics and latex gloves. She also has also defended product liability cases involving chemicals, saws, pumps, valves, motors, ladders, wheels, tires and automobiles. She has tried approximately fifty cases.
Davis Kieran, 47
A Merck attorney. A partner with Williams & Connolly’s Washington, D.C. office who also trained in general surgery, Kiernan has represented numerous companies including General Electric and Bayer Corp. in product liability cases as well as universities and hospitals in medical malpractice actions.
Ben Hardin, 58
State district judge. Hardin practiced law in business transactions and litigation for 21 years before he was appointed in 1995 by then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush to replace a retiring judge in Brazoria, Matagorda and Wharton counties. He was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004, both times unopposed. The Vioxx case was his first jury trial involving a pharmaceutical. In 2004 he received $15,000 in campaign contributions from Lanier and others at Lanier’s firm, and $1,500 from Fulbright & Jaworski.