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Judge in Second Roundup Cancer Trial Worked for Firm that Defended Monsanto

On March 12, both sides in the Edwin Hardeman vs. Monsanto case delivered their closing arguments in San Francisco Federal Court. Hardeman sued Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), alleging that his longtime use of Roundup weedkiller caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer.

The jury could return its verdict any day now. The six-juror panel must return a unanimous decision, or a mistrial will be called. A new trial would likely take place in May. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the case will enter the second phase, where Monsanto’s liability will be determined and damages may be awarded to the plaintiff.

This week’s closing  arguments followed a recent favorable ruling for the plaintiff—this despite new revelations about Chhabria’s past ties to Monsanto.

A surprising ruling in favor of the plaintiff

In a boost for the plaintiff, Chhabria last week dismissed Monsanto’s latest move to end the trial, citing evidence that glyphosate herbicides (including Roundup) could have caused Hardeman’s cancer. He ruled:

The plaintiffs have presented a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of its product.

In his ruling, Chhabria also wrote:

. . . there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.

Judge once worked for law firm that represented Monsanto

Chhabria’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff came as a surprise to some, given the his overall handling of the Hardeman case, which ultimately sparked inquiry into whether Chhabria was biased in favor of the defense. The inquiry led to the revelation that Chhabria once worked for a law firm that’s a “well-known defender of a variety of corporate interests, including Monsanto,” according to reporting by Carey Gillam of U.S. Right to Know.

Chhabria was appointed by then-President Obama in 2013, for the seat he currently holds in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. But prior to that, he worked as an associate, from 2002-2004, at Covington & Burling LLP, a firm that helped Monsanto defend itself over the controversial recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), marketed under the brand name Posilac.

The judge worked for the firm when Monsanto was engulfed in an all-out legal battle over rBGH, a genetically engineered drug developed by Monsanto. The drug, which is injected into cows to boost milk production, increases levels of another hormone, IGF-1 which has been linked to breast, prostate, colon, lung and other cancers in humans.

Not only is rBGH dangerous to humans, but its use is considered inhumane as it causes a string of health problems in cows—painful udder infections, hoof problems and birth defects. To counter these health issues, dairy farmers use antibiotics, which in turn contributes to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, as explained in a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) Oregon Chapter.

The synthetic growth hormone, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993, is banned in Europe and Canada.

Chhabria’s time at Covington & Burling was short-lived. And while there’s no solid evidence he represented Monsanto directly, the judge is “also no stranger to the world of corporate power and influence,” notes Gillam.

Early on in the trial, Judge Chhabria threatened to “shut down” Hardeman’s lead attorney Aimee Wagstaff for violating the judge’s ban on presenting the jury with evidence that Monsanto attempted to manipulate regulators, including by ghostwriting safety reviews of its flagship herbicide.

Chhabria also threatened to dismiss the case entirely and made repeated comments about the plaintiff’s “shaky” evidence.

The judge interrupted Wagstaff on numerous occasions during her opening statements, including when she tried to introduce Hardeman’s wife and began to tell the story of their life and what it was like when Hardeman first discovered the lump in his neck.

Chhabria ultimately ordered Wagstaff to pay a $500 fine for angering him.

The sanction sparked a wave of anger and frustration from people around the world following the trial. In fact, it triggered “a flood of emails from lawyers and other individuals offering support and expressing outrage at the judge’s action,” Gillam reported.

Third Roundup cancer trial set for March 25

Hardeman vs. Monsanto is the second trial involving Monsanto’s cancer-causing Roundup weedkiller. Hardeman, 70, alleges that Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) cancer.

For nearly three decades, Hardeman said he used Roundup to kill weeds on his various California properties. He said he stopped using the weedkiller in 2012 and was diagnosed with NHL in 2016.

The Guardian reported on March 5 that Hardeman’s case is “high-stakes” as it’s considered a “bellwether” trial for the more than 9,000 similar lawsuits currently pending in the U.S. This means the verdict in Hardmen’s case could affect future litigation and possible settlements.

The third Monsanto trial is scheduled to begin March 25, in Oakland, California. Monsanto-Bayer is facing more than 9,000 similar lawsuits. Meanwhile, on March 8, a Florida cancer victim filed a $1-billion lawsuit against Bayer.

To keep up with the latest on the Hardeman vs. Monsanto trial, check out our #MonsantoTrial page and follow us on Twitter.

Watch this video for a Monsanto trial update from Gillam.

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.

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