Nov. 5, 2018 – Los Angeles, California – – Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman attorneys Michael L. Baum, R. Brent Wisner and Pedram Esfandiary participated in a panel discussion on October 31 at an event held by the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.
The lunchtime panel before students and faculty covered a wide range of legal topics, from the ongoing Monsanto Roundup litigation to the role of torts in regulating corporate behavior.
Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, provided opening remarks for the event and Cara Horowitz, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Co-Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, was the moderator for the discussion.
Lawyers Fighting against Monsanto Explain Their Massive Win to Students and Faculty at UCLA Law School
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is one of the nation’s leading firms in the Roundup cancer litigation against Monsanto. The plaintiffs in these cases allege exposure to Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
During their conversation, Horowitz asked the attorneys about the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to proceed to trial. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a former Bay Area groundskeeper who filed suit against Monsanto in 2016, made his case before a San Francisco jury over the summer. R. Brent Wisner served as co-lead counsel for Mr. Johnson, delivering the opening and closing statement at trial and presenting most of the scientific evidence and cross examination of Monsanto’s experts. Baum and Esfandiary were also part of the trial team.
After five weeks of trial proceedings, the jury awarded Mr. Johnson $289.2 million in damages, finding that Monsanto acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct.
“We were finally able to show the jury the secret, internal Monsanto documents proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer,” said Wisner at a press conference following the verdict. “Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to require labeling, we are proud that an independent jury followed the evidence and used its voice to send a message to Monsanto that its years of deception regarding Roundup is over and that they should put consumer safety first.”
The attorneys provided an update on the litigation: earlier this month, the judge overseeing the Johnson trial upheld the jury verdict but reduced the punitive damages, bringing the total award to $78.5 million. After careful consideration, Lee Johnson decided to accept the remittitur with the hope that his case would reach a final resolution during his lifetime.
“While we think the punitive damages reduction was not appropriate, [the judge’s] ruling did weigh the liability and punitive conduct evidence according to the required standard: in a light most favorable to the prevailing party, thus preserving the jury’s basic findings,” Baum said of the presiding judge’s ruling earlier this month. He expects Monsanto to appeal the decision.
Following the discussion on the Roundup litigation, Horowitz ended it by asking the attorneys if they had any advice for the law students in attendance. Michael Baum spoke about the value of being a good writer and the importance of finding and sharing key discovery documents with scientists and regulators. Pedram Esfandiary stressed how important it is not to rely on legal precedent but to be innovative in finding new ways to be persuasive.
“Be sincere, believe in what you’re doing and always be truthful,” said Brent Wisner. “The truth always prevails in the end.” The three attorneys agreed that using the law as a vehicle for positive change led them to where they are now.