As St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley prepared to retire and start a new career with the firm of Carey, Danis and Lowe, he recused himself from Vioxx suits the firm brought to his court.

On April 26, he yielded responsibility for two suits his future employers filed against drug maker Merck in 2005 and 2006.

Chief Judge John Baricevic assigned one to Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto and the other to Circuit Judge Robert Lechien.

Cueto and Lechien set status conferences in July.

For years, O'Malley acted as chief Vioxx judge in suits John Carey, Joseph Danis and Jeffrey Lowe brought against Merck for dozens of clients.

Twice, as acting judge, he assigned himself to Vioxx cases.

Twice he entered jurisdictional rulings in favor of Carey, Danis and Lowe.

In both cases, Fifth District appeals judges in Mount Vernon affirmed him.

In a suit the firm filed over painkiller Bextra, Pfizer and other defendants settled 26 days after Baricevic assigned the case to O'Malley.

The former firm Carey and Danis, in St. Louis County, filed 13 Vioxx suits in St. Clair County in 2005 and 2006.

Lowe added his name to complaints and later joined the firm.

Evan Schaefer and Andrea Lamere of Godfrey added their names to most complaints, as did Evan Buxner of St. Louis.

They sued Pfizer twice over Bextra and sued once over Celebrex.

Merck removed most suits to federal court, but District Judge Patrick Murphy remanded two to O'Malley.

Carey and Danis voluntarily dismissed one in 2006, and O'Malley closed the case.

Chief Judge Jan Fiss assigned another to Cueto but soon reassigned it to O'Malley.

That case remains open, back in Cueto's court due to O'Malley's recusal.

In two other Vioxx suits, O'Malley granted defense motions to transfer cases out of St. Clair County but confounded Merck by sending them to Cook County.

Merck appealed, certain the cases belonged where plaintiffs lived.

In 2008, Fifth District judges ruled that O'Malley didn't abuse his discretion.

Two plaintiffs remained in St. Clair County, and Carey, Danis and Lowe voluntarily dismissed them last November.

O'Malley also recused himself in a case Merck didn't try to remove to federal court, and that case passes to Lechien.

Carey, Danis and Lowe filed a final drug suit in St. Clair County in October 2008, seeking damages from Pfizer and others over painkiller Bextra.

Baricevic assigned it to O'Malley that November, and the parties settled that December.

No one appeared at a settlement hearing, so O'Malley waited a year for Lowe to file a motion to dismiss.

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