17 October 2018

A right Champagne Charlie!

Lawyer key to winning a $289 million verdict against Bayer AG may lose out as judge consider a retrial over 'champage corks flying' comment.

A lead trial attorney Brent Wisner ho convinced a jury that the Monsanto Company’s  Roundup weed killer caused his client’s cancer has upset the judge to the extent she may order a retrial. The major verdict caused huge concern for investors looking ahead to thousands of similar lawsuits across the US pending against Monsanto, which Bayer acquired in June.

‘Corks will pop’

It was Mr Wisner’s closing arguments at trial that annoyed the judge handling the case to the extent she may toss the verdict and order a new trial. According to court filings, Mr Wisner told jurors Monsanto executives in a company board room were ‘waiting for the phone to ring’ and that ‘behind them is a bunch of champagne on ice’ that ‘if the damages number isn’t significant enough, champagne corks will pop.’ At a hearing October 10, San Francisco Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos cited a number of reasons why she may be inclined to set aside or dramatically reduce the verdict, singling out the champagne comment as crossins a line. Mr Wisner’s champagne comments comments to jurors and his telling them their decision could ‘change the world’ and they could become a ‘part of history’ did not go down well with Judge Bolanos, who said they may prove ‘sufficiently prejudicial’ to warrant a new trial.

‘PR man’

This is not the first time Mr Wisner or his firm have been in trouble on the case. Last year, a federal judge in San Francisco handling hundreds of Roundup lawsuits against Monsanto threatened to remove Mr Wisner or his firm from the litigation because Mr Wisner hit the headlines when he publicly released company emails that his firm said demonstrated manipulation of public opinion about Roundup’s health risks. US District Judge Vince Chabria said at a hearing, Mr Wisner ‘was not focused on being a lawyer, he was focused on being a PR man’ and ‘more focused in getting these documents released, and getting them released fast, than he was in being a lawyer.’ Judge Bolanos said she was considering options including setting aside the punitive damages of $250 million, reducing the compensatory damages from $33 million to around $9 million, and ordering a new trial.