Expert witness hearing moved to April in Holiday Shores atrazine class action

Amelia Flood Mar. 15, 2011, 7:47am


A hearing on when an expert witness from the University of Chicago was retained by the defendant in a class action over the weed killer atrazine has been moved for a second time.

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge entered an order on March 11 moving a March 18 evidentiary hearing on the role of Don Coursey, a professor at the university, to 9 a.m. on April 1.

Coursey's role as an expert witness for defendant Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. has come into question recently as documents released in discovery by the University of Chicago to plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District indicate that the professor was not retained by Syngenta until three years after the company first claimed he was hired.

Plaintiffs' attorney Stephen Tillery has asked for sanctions over the matter, calling the difference in retention date "a cover-up."

Tillery also issued subpoenas that would have mandated the appearance of defense attorneys Kurtis Reeg for Syngenta and Mary Lamb for the University of Chicago, as well as third parties in the suit, to appear with documents related to their communications about Coursey.

Those subpoenaed called the February filings "an abuse of the discovery process" and "harassment."

Holiday Shores proposes to lead a class of Illinois cities and other water providers against Syngenta and the other makers of atrazine.

The plaintiffs claim that the chemical, commonly used by farmers to kill weeds, runs off fields into drinking water that the plaintiffs must then remediate.

The 2004 suits have also spawned a 2010 federal class action led by the City of Greenville, Ill. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

That suit is set for a settlement conference in April.

Mudge had originally been set to hold the evidentiary hearing on Coursey's retention date March 10. The parties then continued that hearing to March 18 due to Coursey's teaching schedule at the University of Chicago.

In Mudge's March 11 order, the judge also found that some of the documents requested by the Holiday Shores subpoenas must be produced.

"Work product in Illinois is a narrow doctrine, protecting only materials generated in preparation for litigation which reveal mental impressions, opinions or trial strategy," Mudge wrote.

Mudge ordered the defendants to produce documents requested under the subpoenas that do not fall into that definition.

Mudge went on to quash the orders that Reeg, Lamb and the other attorneys subpoenaed appear and directed the parties to continue discovery and attempts to resolve disputes.

Mudge's order came on the same day as the University of Chicago attorneys' moved to quash the subpoena.

Syngenta's attorneys had also moved to quash the subpoenas.

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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