Attorney misconduct allegations crop up in Johnson & Johnson, Gilead cases

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In two cases involving pharma giants, attorney misconduct allegations have made the rounds. (Getty images)

Two high-profile cases in the pharma world have featured similar headlines this month—and they're not flattering to the legal profession.

In both instances, allegations of attorney misconduct have cropped up, shifting focus from the lawsuits themselves to the people arguing them.

First, HIV advocates battling Gilead Sciences say a U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) official harbored a pro-industry bias. And second, J&J lawyers say their counterparts in talc litigation stonewalled questions about expert testimony and otherwise played foul with the rules. 

In the Gilead case, advocates with PrEP4All found tweets from PTO senior legal adviser Mary Till that showed a bias toward the branded pharmaceutical industry, an attorney for the group wrote in a petition published by Stat. Till has since deleted her account, but the petition shows she asked a PrEP4All representative if "facts even matter" in one tweet. In another, she told a Twitter user to "keep your comments to something you know!" A PTO spokesman said she's no longer working on the case.

PrEP4All has challenged a Gilead patent extension on the HIV drug Descovy. The advocates say the drugmaker delayed development of safer HIV drugs to protect its monopoly for older meds and shouldn't be rewarded for that foot dragging with extended patent protections. Gilead denied the allegations and said it "strongly believes" the petition has no merit. 

In another development this week, a dozen lawmakers wrote to the PTO to call for a careful review of the case, saying they're "troubled" about the allegations.

RELATED: Gilead, seeking HIV patent extension, faces 'gamesmanship' claims from patient group 

Separately, in the talc litigation, J&J lawyers have numerous complaints about alleged misconduct and “prejudicial irregularities” in an ongoing case, reports. For one, plaintiffs’ lawyers have “resisted answering” questions about testimony from an expert witness on asbestos testing in talc, J&J lawyers wrote in a filing requesting a mistrial.  

They also pointed out "irregularities” starting early in the trial. In one exchange, a lawyer for J&J asked a plaintiff’s witness how much he income he made testifying in 2017. The witness responded that he “earned in that year 0.00082513 of what you made, sir,” according to the report. 

Even though the judge ordered the jury to disregard the comment, J&J’s lawyers called it an “incurable” statement that highlighted how J&J could spend significant resources to defend itself. Closing arguments were set to begin Thursday, according to the report.  

In a separate talc case earlier this year, a New Jersey judge struck J&J’s entire closing argument after the company's lawyer called the plaintiffs' attorneys “sinister.” 

RELATED: Merck lawyer's misdeeds tainted Gilead patent fight, court rules—and cost the company $200M 

While those are a few examples of misconduct in high-profile pharma cases, another instance cost New Jersey pharma giant Merck & Co. significant money. In a patent dispute between the company and Gilead, a California judge found a "pervasive pattern of misconduct" from Merck and struck a $200 million jury verdict that had been awarded to the company.