Third party moves to quash subpoenas in Syngenta atrazine class action

Amelia Flood Mar. 15, 2011, 2:44am



Attorneys for the University of Chicago are asking Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge to quash a series of subpoenas that would require their presence at a March 18 hearing in a class action brought against Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. over its chemical atrazine.

Lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District sent subpoenas to the university's lawyers, Madelyn Lamb and Jason Winslow of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, which they received March 1.

Those subpoenas would require the two to appear at a March 18 evidentiary hearing on the role of an expert in the litigation.

The pair would also be required to bring documents of payments made to them by Syngenta and communications between the pay and other attorneys in the case including lead Syngenta counsel Kurtis Reeg.

The University of Chicago is a third-party to the suit and has fought discovery requests filed by Holiday Shores.

The March 18 hearing is set for 9 a.m.

Holiday Shores proposes to lead a class of Illinois water providers and municipalities against Syngenta and the other makers of atrazine for allegedly contaminating the plaintiffs' water supplies.

Atrazine is a weed killer commonly used by farmers.

The plaintiffs' contend that the chemical runs off fields into water supplies that they must then remediate.

The 2004 suits have sparked a nearly identical 2010 federal class action led by the City of Greenville, Ill. that is currently being litigated in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

The dispute set for hearing Friday centers on when Syngenta retained an expert witness, Don Coursey, a professor at the University of Chicago.

The company had previously alleged that it retained Coursey as an expert in 2006.

As such, the company claimed portions of Coursey's testimony and work were privileged.

However, 900 documents released by the University of Chicago last month indicate that Coursey was not hired by Syngenta until January 2009.

Plaintiff's counsel Stephen Tillery told Mudge that he was outraged by what seemed to be a "cover-up."

Reeg countered at the same hearing that the date was simply shifted by new discovery revelations.

Holiday Shores has also sought to subpoena Reeg and other Syngenta attorneys in relation to the March 18 hearing.

They are also moving to quash those notices.

The University of Chicago calls the subpoenas "an abuse of the discovery process," echoing sentiments in the other moves to quash.

The University also notes that it is not a party to the suit and that it has shown good faith in its willingness to produce documents ordered by the court.

It also alleges the plaintiffs are attempting to circumvent attorney-client privilege by subpoenaing the documents and testimony about communications between Lamb, Winslow and others connected with the case.

"Plaintiffs have provided no showing, reason or explanation to establish any right or basis to attempt to obtain testimony or documents from attorneys representing non-parties to the litigation who were noticed to produce documents," the motion to quash reads. "Plaintiff is improperly attempting to make the University's counsel witnesses in the case where they were retained to represent the University in violation of ethical rules."

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

The atrazine class actions are case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.

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