Syngenta attorneys object to Holiday Shores' notices requiring them to appear

Amelia Flood Mar. 11, 2011, 1:21am


Attorneys for the defendant in one of a series of proposed class actions over the weed killer atrazine are calling on a Madison County Judge to quash hearing notices they say are "an abuse of the discovery process."

Attorneys Kurtis Reeg and Christopher Murphy object to notices directed at them by lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District.

The attorneys, who represent defendant Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., filed a move March 7 to quash the notices directing them to appear before Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge.

Mudge is set to preside over an evidentiary hearing on a motion for sanctions filed by Holiday Shores on March 18.

The hearing centers on a dispute over when an expert witness, Don Coursey of the University of Chicago, was retained by Syngenta.

Holiday Shores is suing Syngenta and other makers and distributors of atrazine.

The plaintiffs claim atrazine runs off farm fields into drinking water supplies that they and other potential class members must then remediate.

The suit is one of six proposed Madison County class actions over atrazine that Holiday Shores leads.

Coursey's retention date was the subject of a heated discovery dispute Mudge heard last month.

Lead plaintiffs' counsel Stephen Tillery railed about what he said was a possible "cover-up" by the defense.

Coursey, a professor at the University of Chicago, and Syngenta had been fighting Holiday Shores' discovery requests for Coursey's testimony and work he has done on atrazine.

Syngenta had claimed that Coursey was retained as an expert witness in 2006.

As such, his work since then and some testimony would be privileged, they had argued.

However, in documents released by the University of Chicago, it came to light that Coursey was not retained by Syngenta as an expert witness until January 2009.

Reeg, the lead counsel for Syngenta, had told Mudge at the February hearing that the initial discovery in the case indicated that the 2006 was correct.

The further discovery, which Reeg had not been able to review before the Feb. 22 hearing, showed that date to be inaccurate.

Reeg called the evidentiary hearing a "colossal waste" of time.

In the March 7 filings, Syngenta's attorneys allege that Holiday Shores sent them plaintiffs' notices or Supreme Court Rule 237(b) notices even though that rule does not apply to attorneys.

"As directed to Messrs. Reeg and Murphy, Plaintiffs' Notice and request for documents is improper on its fact, requests communications protected by attorney/client and attorney work product privilege, and constitutes harassment and an abuse of the discovery process," the March 7 motion to quash reads.

Syngenta points to the fact it will bring two employees to the March hearing and that Reeg, who has represented Syngenta throughout the suit's seven years, will also be there.

"Nonetheless, Mr. Tillery persists in his demand that opposing counsel appear and testify under oath at the hearing," the motion argues.

Murphy, it goes on to state, did not come into the lawsuit until March 2010 and so has no knowledge of the retention date issue.

Syngenta also points to a March 3 order signed by Mudge that quashed a similar notice sent to Coursey's attorney, C. Raymond Bell.

"That ruling," the company argues in the March 7 motion, "should apply equally to Syngenta's counsel."

The Syngenta case is Madison case number 04-L-710.

The atrazine suits are Madison case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.

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