Arguments heard in effort to reopen pharmacist’s drug dilution civil cases

Robert Courtney
Robert Courtney

An effort to reopen civil litigation related to pharmacist Robert Courtney’s drug dilution scheme got an initial hearing Tuesday in a Missouri appeals court.

Appeals judges agreed, as a preliminary matter, to consider whether years-old decisions to seal important court records in the case were proper.

After deciding that, the judges said they would consider whether Courtney’s victims, or their surviving families, can walk away from previous settlements with two drug companies and seek new claims.

Attorney Arthur Benson, who represents the victims, argued in the Kansas City hearing that too much court secrecy contributed to a bad settlement a decade ago and that the public has a right to see how its courts work.

“The judicial process should remain open,” Benson said.

Marie Spencer Woodbury, a lawyer speaking for drug manufacturers Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., countered that the cases should remain closed and that the time to raise concerns about the settlements had long passed.

“All of these claims were resolved by voluntary dismissals,” Woodbury said.

Courtney, now 60, was arrested in August 2001 after tests of cancer drugs he had mixed showed they had been diluted.

He pleaded guilty early the next year to adulterating medications, later telling authorities that he had been watering down chemotherapy drugs since at least 1992. Courtney is serving a 30-year federal prison term.

For more than a year, 21 of the more than 400 Courtney victims or their families have pushed to reopen suits against the drug companies, which the claimants said were negligent in failing to uncover Courtney’s scheme.

The companies denied the allegations but agreed in 2002 to settle the claims.

The family members now say that the settlements were improper and prevented them from obtaining the full value of their claims.

In July, a Jackson County circuit judge heard arguments in a courtroom packed with family members. However, now-retired judge Charles Atwell ordered two reporters out of the courtroom, saying he needed to hear about issues that had been filed under seal.

In November, Atwell upheld keeping the documents under seal and denied a motion to reopen the case. That order was itself filed under seal but is described in public filings in the appeals case.