A dim view of justice

The Madison County Record Mar. 4, 2007, 10:27am

Color us flattered that mega-millionaire Texas trial attorney Mikal Watts thought to mention The Record during jury selection in Schwaller v. Merck this week.

Mr. Watts, jetting in and out of Madison County as part of the far-flung legal team representing Mr. Schwaller, took a moment to tell potential jurors they should beware our newspaper because we're against him. Or we're for Merck, as Watts put it.

Coming from a guy famous for bragging about his attempts to manipulate news coverage as a means of pressuring corporate defendants during trial, the comment comes pretty rich. To be sure, the more we read about Watts, maybe our news reporters, as well as those from the Post-Dispatch and News-Democrat, should be the wary ones.

"I was feeding a lot of information to European and U.S. papers," Watts crowed to the Wall Street Journal in 2004, explaining how he tried a $550 million lawsuit against German drug maker Bayer over the cholesterol drug Baycol. "It was part of my strategy to affect the stock price, which I was very successful at."

That's successful at hurting Bayer, whose tens of thousands of employees worried Watts would bankrupt their company and put them out of work. And successful at promoting himself-- the Journal dubbed Watts a "rising star of the plaintiff's bar... so rich he owned two airplanes, a 9,000-acre ranch and his own airstrip." But not very successful at helping his 82 year-old plaintiff, Hollis Haltom, who had blamed Baycol for her debilitative muscle condition but would walk away in the end with nothing.

She could have had something. Bayer offered Haltom $250,000 to settle her case. The lawyer didn't bother to tell his client. For a man so big, it was a number too small.

"We might have taken it," Haltom said. "Watts thought he could make a killing. I got nothing, not a penny."

A dramatic Watts even quoted Lincoln at Gettysburg in his closing argument, but the jury didn't buy it.

Justice is one thing, but satisfying a man worth so many millions is quite another. Call it a word of caution for Frank Schwaller, now fully along for the ride.

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