University of Chicago professor calls Tillery's discovery requests 'irrelevant' and 'harassing'; Hearing reset to March 18
An evidentiary hearing set Thursday in a proposed Madison County class action against Syngenta over its weed killer atrazine has been moved.
Circuit Judge William Mudge moved the March 10 hearing involving a sanctions motion to March 18 at 9 a.m.
Mudge changed the hearing schedule at the request of a non-party to the case, Don Coursey, a professor at the University of Chicago.
Coursey's role as an expert witness for Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Coursey is also moving to block discovery requests made by lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District related to work on atrazine that he claims is privileged information.
At a hearing Feb. 23 hearing, attorneys for Syngenta acknowledged that Coursey was not retained as an expert on the date that they had previously claimed.
Holiday Shores proposes to lead a class of Illinois water providers and municipalities in a class action over the alleged damages done to its water supplies by atrazine.
Atrazine is commonly used as an herbicide by farmers.
Syngenta is the primary maker of the chemical.
The plaintiffs contend that atrazine runs off farm fields and contaminates drinking water supplies. They claim they must then remediate the damage.
The defendants deny the claims.
Discovery disputes have become a common fixture in the case since the process gained steam in 2009.
The Syngenta case is one of six state class actions led by Holiday Shores against the makers and distributors and makers of atrazine.
All of those cases were filed in 2004.
Holiday Shores is represented in all of the suits by attorneys Stephen Tillery, Christie Deaton and Christine Moody.
The Tillery team also represents in the City of Greenville, Ill. in a nearly identical federal class action filed against Syngenta and its Swiss parent-company last year.
At the Feb. 23 hearing, Tillery alleged that Syngenta had tried "a cover-up," in withholding the information related to Coursey's work and by switching up the dates of his retention by the company.
Syngenta had claimed that work Coursey generated between Feb. 14, 2006 and the present was not available to Holiday Shores because he was working for the company as an expert witness.
However, at the Feb. 23 hearing under prodding from Tillery and Mudge, Syngenta attorney Kurtis Reeg acknowledged that his client now believed it hired Coursey as an expert Jan. 9, 2009.
That acknowledgement in open court came just hours after the University of Chicago turned over 900 documents related to Coursey's work to the plaintiffs and Reeg.
Reeg told the judge at the Feb. 23 hearing that the 2006 date was originally believed to be correct. However, future discovery that was then produced to his counterparts showed the later date was accurate.
"The plaintiffs asked for documents and now they are trying to punish the people who produced them because they got what they wanted," Reeg said of the sanctions move.
He called the evidentiary hearing on the issue of Coursey's retention date "a colossal waste of judicial resources and the parties' time."
Coursey filed a motion March 2 calling the notice he received for the March 10 hearing and its requests for various documents "irrelevant and harassing, and a violation of attorney/client privilege and attorney work product privilege."
"This Notice constitutes nothing other than threats and harassment," the motion reads. "This type of conduct also sets a dangerous precedent, including a chilling effect on attorney/client representation and attorney/client privilege," Coursey's motion reads.
Coursey then moved to continue the March 10 hearing due to his teaching schedule at the University of Chicago.
Mudge, citing the necessity of Coursey's appearance, moved the hearing.
The plaintiffs are also challenging a privilege log Syngenta submitted.
Mudge has also granted two pro hac vice admissions to attorneys Rosemarie Fiorillo and Joseph A. Perez-Maltes. They will appear for Holiday Shores.
Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder and former Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack both previously oversaw the suit.
The Syngenta case is Madison case number 04-L-710.
The atrazine suits are case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.
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