Journalist fights Amgen subpoena in Aranesp class action suit

Paul Goldberg

It isn't too often that drugmakers and journalists go head to head in court. But as part of Amgen's ($AMGN) latest legal battle, it's asking a federal judge to force a reporter to testify about an article he wrote that prompted a shareholder suit against the company and to spell out how he got information about an abandoned clinical trial.

Amgen called on Paul Goldberg, editor-in-chief and publisher of cancer research newsletter The Cancer Letter, after Goldberg wrote a story about Amgen pulling the plug on a trial of its chemotherapy and kidney disease drug, Aranesp. The article spurred a class action lawsuit in the federal district court in Los Angeles, with shareholders claiming the company failed to disclose information about the study.

But Goldberg refused, saying he had reporter's privilege to keep the information to himself under the First Amendment. In June, Goldberg filed papers challenging the company's subpoena. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is now hearing arguments from both Amgen and Goldberg, the Legal Times reports.

Goldberg's attorney Steven Lieberman told Mehta that Amgen failed to take additional steps before subpoenaing Goldberg, including interviewing more Wall Street analysts and speaking with doctors mentioned in his article. Journalists should be a last, not first, resort for information in legal proceedings, Lieberman pointed out, and a company as large as Amgen should be able to get its ammo elsewhere.

As part of its class action suit, Amgen wants to show that information about the clinical study was already known before Goldberg published his article. John Hueston, the company's attorney, said Amgen would not ask Goldberg to name confidential sources and just wants him to share how he learned about the study, the Legal Times reports.

But Mehta was not convinced, asking Hueston whether Amgen had exhausted all of its other options for getting the information before turning to Goldberg, according to the Legal Times story. The company has already talked to three securities analysts familiar with the matter, Hueston told Mehta, and knows about 25 other analysts who follow the drugmaker's activities. Still, this isn't sufficient information to build Amgen's defense case, he added. "We are not using Mr. Goldberg as any kind of shortcut," he said, as quoted by the Legal Times.

- read the Legal Times story