University of Chicago moves to file docs under seal; Says plaintiff becoming 'increasingly aggressive'

By Amelia Flood | Mar 22, 2011


The University of Chicago is asking to file documents under seal in a proposed Madison County class action against a leading maker of atrazine.

The university, one of a number of third parties that have been dragged into the case led by Holiday Shores Sanitary District, is also asking that Mudge acknowlege it has complied with discovery in the case and end its involvement.

Mudge is set to hear the motion March 30 at 1:30 p.m.

Holiday Shores and a number of Illinois municipalities claim the herbicide runs off farm fields into drinking water supplies they must then remediate. Attorney Stephen Tillery represents the plaintiffs.

The university is tangled in a discovery dispute that hinges on what date one of its faculty members, Don Coursey, was retained by Syngenta as an expert witness.

In its March 17 motion, the university claims that it cannot supplement a privilege log provided to Tillery without waiving privilege that is claimed on more than 700 documents.

The university asserts that it has no knowledge of what documents Coursey may have relied upon in his role as a consulting expert for Syngenta.

"Despite the University and its attorneys' repeated statements to Plaintiff's counsel that they have no personal knowledge of the documents upon which Dr. Coursey relied...counsel for Plaintiff continues to urge the University, by increasingly aggressive means, to disclose documents which are subject to claims of privilege asserted by Dr. Coursey and his attorney," the motion reads.

"As a result, the University finds itself in the position of withholding documents in respect of the privilege(s) asserted by Dr. Coursey and his attorney, while facing increasingly aggressive tactics by Plaintiff's attorneys...Discovery is not a tactical game but is intended to be a mechanism for the ascertainment of truth for the purpose of promoting either a fair settlement or a fair trial."

The university asks Circuit Judge Bill Mudge to enter an order that states it has complied with all subpoenas and that it is discharged from any further role in the litigation.

The university asks to file its remaining documents under seal with the court.

Expert witness

It had been thought Coursey was hired by Syngenta in 2006 to serve as an expert witness.

On the basis of that hiring date, Syngenta claimed that parts of Coursey's testimony and work he produced on atrazine were privileged.
However, documents released by the University of Chicago last month indicated that Coursey wasn't hired by Syngenta as a witness until January 2009.

Tillery told Mudge that the change in date smacked of "a cover-up."

The plaintiffs then requested an evidentiary hearing on the matter and have a sanctions motion against Syngenta pending.

The hearing had been set earlier this month but was pushed off to accommodate Coursey's teaching schedule.

It was rescheduled again to April 1 by agreement of the parties.

Mudge entered an order recently that quashed Holiday Shores' subpoenas that would have required Syngenta attorney Kurtis Reeg, University of Chicago attorney Madelyn Lamb and other attorneys from the defense and third parties, to appear at that hearing.

The respondents called the February subpoenas "an abuse of the discovery process."

Mudge's order also mandated that Coursey and the other parties bring certain documentation to the April 1 hearing.

Mudge inherited the cases last year when Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder took over the asbestos docket from retiring Circuit Judge Daniel Stack.

Stack also headed up the atrazine suits.

C. Raymond Bell represents Coursey.

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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Organizations in this Story

Syngenta The University of Chicago

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