Perhaps the most notable jury award in Jefferson County — a poor black county of less than 10,000 residents — was $150 million given to five plaintiffs in 1999 against the makers of the diet drug fen-phen. The case was eventually settled with more than 800 other fen-phen cases for a reported $400 million.
In nearby Claiborne County, jurors in 2001 returned a $100 million award against Johnson & Johnson stemming from the heartburn drug Propulsid.
The court docket has seen fewer new cases after Mississippi legislators passed laws capping jury awards against businesses in civil cases, but officials said the cases filed before the January 1 deadline will keep the docket busy for some time to come.
At least two drug stores in the area have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury looking for patient information and possibly forged prescription records.
Investigators from the state Attorney General’s office reportedly contacted former jurors who sued the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” after it aired a segment last November called “Jackpot Justice.” It featured former Fayette florist Beau Strittman, the recipient of an undisclosed settlement from the makers of the obesity drug Redux, who said juries had “awarded these people this money because they felt as if they were going to get a cut off of it.”
Some of the plaintiffs from the fen-phen case accuse their lawyers of lining their wallets at victims’ expense. More than a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed against several of the attorneys who went after the drug maker.
The lawyers being sued led the fen-phen litigation — Michael Gallagher of Houston and Dennis Sweet, Shane Langston, Richard Freese and Richard Schwartz.
Two of the lawsuits allege Schwartz signed up fake clients to increase the lawyer’s portion from the settlements. Ben Skipper, Schwartz’s lawyer, called the allegations “completely baseless.”
A Jackson State University employee, Kenneth Kennedy, claims he referred 70 users of the drugs fen-phen, Propulsid and Rezulin to Sweet for $150,000, plus expenses. Kennedy said he was never paid.
Two other alleged “runners” have also sued Sweet. One, Willie Anderson, said he was to receive between $1.5 and $4 million for the cases he referred. Anderson, though, dropped the suit a day after filing it in April, saying in an affidavit that he became scared after being contacted by the FBI.
Sweet has called the lawsuits “frivolous” and filed a countersuit against Kennedy. He wants a court order forbidding the plaintiffs’ attorney, Kevin D. Muhammad, from filing any more suits against him or the other fen-phen lawyers.