Atrazine hearing turns into conference as attorneys work out discovery issues
What was set to be a hearing on fiercely debated discovery issues in high stakes litigation turned into a conference Monday morning in the Madison County courthouse.
In the end, the attorneys present worked out an order setting the tone for the next month.
Attorneys in a series of six proposed class actions against makers of the herbicide atrazine hammered out an agreement to resolve their "housekeeping" problems.
The agreed upon order that resulted states that defendant Growmark stipulates that it was doing business in Madison County at the time the plaintiffs filed their claims.
The order goes on to state that if the defendants wish to contest that stipulation, they must notify the plaintiffs on or before Tuesday. A hearing set for Feb. 23 on motions to transfer venue would be continued.
The plaintiffs agreed to withdraw their first set of interrogatories related to the venue question in the mean time.
As plaintiff's attorney Stephen Tillery told Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder Feb. 8, "I want to deal with these housekeeping things."
Among those were disagreements over discovery timetables and discovery for venue transfer arguments that have yet to be made.
Each of the defendants in the case filed motions Feb. 4 seeking protective orders limiting which of Tillery's interrogatories they would be required to answer.
The interrogatories relate to discovery for arguments about venue transfer motions the defendants filed in December 2009. Those motions have yet to be argued.
According to defendant Sipcam Ago, Tillery's interrogatories are "onerous" and seek information not related to the venue issues.
The defendants further contend that Growmark, a defendant in all of the suits, has already offered to stipulate to doing business in Madison County and that stipulation should appease the plaintiffs.
"Plaintiffs have acknowledged that defendants' proposed stipulation would alleviate the need for responses to their interrogatories, yet they insist the defendants nevertheless respond to more limited but still burdensome and unnecessary discovery that has absolutely no relevance to the pending motions," Sipcam's motion for protective order reads.
Tillery represents lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitation District and a number of other municipalities and water treatment entities that allege atrazine, a common herbicide, contaminates their water supplies.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ruled that atrazine in three parts per billion is safe in drinking water, the plaintiff allege that it can cause medical problems in human beings in even smaller amounts.
The 2004 suits have just begun discovery after a series of delays.
Crowder inherited the cases last August from retiring Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack.
Tillery and the defendants, led by Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. have sparred repeatedly since August over interrogatories and other discovery matters.
After brief remarks made during the opening of the hearing, the attorneys began conferencing in the hallway before Crowder offered to recess the hearing so they could continue their discussions.
The next hearing in the case is set for Feb. 23.
However, Crowder advised the attorneys present that the next hearing may be bumped by a trial scheduled to begin in her court on Feb. 16.
The defendants and their representation are as follows:
Sipcam is represented by Geoffrey Bryce.
Growmark and Dow Chemical Company are represented by Robert Shultz Jr.
Syngenta is represented by Kurtis Reeg.
United Agri-Products Inc. is represented by Reeg in a special limited appearance.
Drexel Chemical Company is represented by Daniel Cray.
Makhteshim-Agan of North America is represented by Russell Scott.
The atrazine cases are Madison case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.
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