Hoerner and King
BELLEVILLE – Class action lawyer Stephen Tillery, pursuing a paraquat exposure claim against Syngenta, seeks to depose lawyers who defended Syngenta in atrazine litigation that ended years ago.
Decision rests with St. Clair County Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner, whose appellate court campaign received $11,100 from the firm Korein Tillery last year. Hoerner, a Democrat, lost that race to Republican David Overstreet.
Hoerner held a hearing on May 22, and hadn’t entered an order as of May 28.
Bob Sprague, county chairman of the Democratic Party, filed the suit for Clinton County farmer Thomas Hoffmann in association with Tillery in 2017.
Hoffmann blamed the herbicide paraquat for his Parkinson’s disease.
Sprague amended the complaint to add more farmers and assert claims against Chevron Phillips.
Hoffmann died and his estate carried on the suit.
Former circuit judge Vincent Lopinot presided until retiring last December.
Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson assigned the suit to himself, and Syngenta exercised a right of substitution. In an Illinois court, any party can substitute a judge once without cause if the judge hasn’t made a substantial ruling.
Gleeson assigned Circuit Judge Christopher Kolker, and Chevron Phillips exercised a right of substitution.
Gleeson assigned Hoerner, who had obtained an appointment as associate judge from circuit judges after losing the Fifth District appellate court race.
In April, Syngenta moved to quash depositions of lawyers in the Faegre Baker Daniels firm of Minneapolis.
Tillery alleged violation of discovery orders and moved for sanctions.
At a hearing on May 22, Syngenta counsel Ragan Naresh of Washington said depositions of opposing counsel would disrupt the process.
Hoerner asked if they were attorneys of record in this case, and Naresh said no.
Naresh said they were discovery counsel for atrazine, and currently are discovery counsel for Syngenta. He also said the motion called for communications between counsel and client.
“That’s right in the sweet spot of privilege,” Naresh said.
Hoerner said, “Just take their word for it?”
Instead of kicking the can down the road, Hoerner said it was time to see what’s in the can. He also said that May 20 was the production date.
Naresh said they produced 98 percent of the documents.
“We produced ten thousand documents last Friday,” he said.
He said requests for information should go through him, not through Faegre.
Hoerner said, “If they’re discovery counsel, isn’t that a good place to start?”
Naresh said, “Our process should apply.”
Robert King of Tillery’s firm said he had never been involved in moving for sanctions.
“They’re distasteful, not the way I like to practice law,” King said.
He said Syngenta misrepresented that it couldn’t reproduce records with a flip of a switch.
“It was intentional misrepresentation, a lie,” King said.
King said he subpoenaed Faegre because the records were subject to production and he tried nine months to get them.
He said if Hoerner would let them depose Faegre attorneys, Syngenta’s lawyers could object.
“We’d love to have you supervise that deposition,” King said.