The Paxil Pigpen

The Madison County Record Jan. 21, 2007, 8:05am

Is any of this going to make our children safer?

That's all we've been thinking, watching ravenous class action lawyers Steven Tillery, John Driscoll and Chris Cueto wrestle over which plaintiff's lawyer is going to make the most millions in a dubious lawsuit over the antidepressant Paxil.

None of the three allege anyone was actually injured taking the drug. And Paxil-maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) vehemently denies as much. It's admitting no wrongdoing whatsoever.

But the company is willing to buck up anyway, handing Tillery millions in cash just to go away. That's right, GSK is willing to give this man a large fortune if that will just help them escape the legal morass that is Madison and St. Clair Counties.

Paxil, it should be said, is a widely-used drug that's been in the trial bar cross-hairs since 2004. That's when then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued GSK, claiming it "concealed" evidence that the drug caused mood swings. For shock value, Spitzer (erroneously) charged the drug caused "suicidal" thoughts in children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration disagreed. GSK wasn't charged with any wrongdoing and Paxil stayed-- and stays-- on the market. Today, millions of American rely on the product to treat their depression and anxiety disorders.

But "no harm" doesn't mean "no foul" to opportunists like Tillery. He pounced nonetheless, spoiling to make a quick fortune with his favorite litigation angle: Even if Paxil-takers are happy with the product, they're still entitled to at least a partial refund for being "misled."

Indeed, we've seen this maneuver in these here parts many times before. Most prominently, it was the approach used to bamboozle Judge Nicholas Byron into allowing Sharon Price to lead her infamous class action lawsuit against Philip Morris. Sure, Tillery argued, Ms. Price loved her Cambridge Lights. But she never would have paid as much for them had she known they weren't healthy.

Laugh all you want, but the theory served as the basis for a $10.1 billion verdict that would have, had it not been overturned, netted Tillery $1.2 billion in legal fees.

This time around, it's Judge Ralph Mendelsohn doing the enabling. The stakes are lower-- if he can fend off his fellow sharks, Tillery only stands to make $16.3 million for his creativity. But the premise is all the same.

A non- problem is resolved with a non-solution. And the lawyers get filthy rich.

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