Lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District has asked Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge to order defendant Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. to turn over documents related to Chicago public relations firm Jayne Thompson & Associates (JTA) that it claims are not privileged.
Mudge has taken the documents at issue for an in camera review in the weeks leading up to a May 6 evidentiary hearing on the question of when Syngenta retained an expert witness through the public relations firm.
JTA's role in the litigation surrounding Syngenta's weed killer atrazine has come into focus in recent discovery disputes including one discussed at a March 30 hearing.
Holiday Shores on April 7 filed its memorandum concerning Mudge's in camera review of the JTA documents held by Syngenta.
Holiday Shores filed six proposed class actions in 2004 against Syngenta and the other makers and distributors of atrazine.
Proposing to lead a class of water providers and municipalities, Holiday Shores claims that atrazine runs off farm fields into drinking water supplies that the plaintiffs must then remediate.
The six Madison County cases sparked a nearly identical federal class action led by the City of Greenville, Ill. in the United States District Court for Southern Illinois.
Neither the Madison County classes nor the Greenville multi-state class have been certified to date.
The Holiday Shores suit against Syngenta has been bogged down in discovery disputes since the beginning of the year.
The most heated of the recent disputes centers on when Syngenta retained University of Chicago professor Don Coursey to study the economic impact of an atrazine ban and to act as a consulting expert witness.
Documents released in February by the University of Chicago indicated that Coursey was not formerly retained until January 2009.
The court's previous understanding of the retention date was that Syngenta hired Coursey in 2006.
Syngenta had claimed privilege over Coursey's work from 2006 to the present until the 2009 date came to light.
Holiday Shores, represented by attorney Stephen Tillery, has moved for sanctions against Syngenta in relation to the retention date matter.
JTA's role in the dispute was touched on several times during the March 30 hearing.
In the April 7 filing, Holiday Shores contends that Syngenta can't claim privilege to JTA's work because it cannot prove that the public relations firm was hired to work actively on the litigation itself.
"In light of the documents that Dr. Coursey belatedly produced after Plaintiffs filed their motion for an evidentiary hearing, it is apparent that JTA merely orchestrated a public relations campaign designed to generate negative publicity toward this lawsuit – a campaign centered on creating and publicizing alarmist 'economic studies,'" the plaintiffs' memorandum states. "Plaintiffs have not seen and Syngenta has not produced any evidence indicating that JTA advised Syngenta's attorneys on litigation strategy."
The plaintiffs also contend that JTA's work does not contain protected legal opinions and that Syngenta itself made an issue of JTA's work in connection with when it claims to have hired Coursey.
The plaintiffs go on to ask Mudge to order Syngenta to immediately produce an unredacted copy of JTA's 2005 proposal related to its work on the atrazine class action.
Kurtis Reeg and others represent Syngenta.
C. Raymond Bell represents Coursey.
JTA does not have representation listed in the suit currently.
Madelyn Lamb and others represent Coursey's employer, the University of Chicago.
The case is Madison case number 04-L-710.
The atrazine cases are case numbers 04-L-708 to 04-L-713.