Jury selection for one of the biggest civil trials ever in Alaska is now under way in Anchorage Superior Court with attorneys from around the country, an instant Internet feed for those willing to pay big bucks, and tens of millions of dollars riding on the verdict.
At issue is Zyprexa, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co.'s best-selling drug. It is approved for treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The state of Alaska sued Eli Lilly in 2006, alleging the company failed to warn of serious health risks for people who take Zyprexa, including the risk of diabetes. It wants the company to cover treatment costs of Medicaid patients who suffered serious health problems after being on the drug.
But Eli Lilly says the state has two irreconcilable positions -- at the same time the state is suing the company, it continues seeking court orders to force mental patients to take the very drug it says is so harmful. Zyprexa has been prescribed for more than 23 million people since its initial approval in 1996, according to Lilly, and it still is being prescribed in the United States and more than 80 other countries. Global sales of Zyprexa last year topped $4.8 billion.
Eight other states have suits pending, plus another 1,200 suits by private individuals are awaiting trial. Alaska's is the first to make it to a jury so all eyes are on Judge Mark Rindner's fourth floor courtroom.
In addition, a federal criminal investigation is being conducted in Pennsylvania.
About a dozen lawyers and support team members for Eli Lilly have come to Anchorage for the trial, occupying rooms on two floors of the Hotel Captain Cook across the street from the Nesbitt Courthouse downtown.
Many come from the huge national law firm Pepper Hamilton, with more than 500 lawyers in seven states and Washington D.C.
Nina Gussack, a partner in Pepper Hamilton's litigation department based in Philadelphia, will give Eli Lilly's opening statement, likely today.
Another Pepper Hamilton partner with a leading role on the case is George Lehner of Washington D.C., said Lilly spokeswoman Marni Lemons. But it was Anchorage lawyer Brewster Jamieson of Lane Powell who questioned prospective jurors for Lilly Tuesday and made a point of telling them he grew up in Homer.
It's not just the big corporation that brought in Outside lawyers.
Among the hired guns at the state of Alaska table Tuesday: Tommy Fibich, a partner with Houston, Texas-based Fibich Hampton & Leebron who specializes in pharmaceutical drug litigation and product liability, according to the firm's Web site. Another lawyer representing Alaska is from the Minneapolis area; a third, from the Charleston, S.C., area.
Neither side hired jury consultants.
It's the first trial for Eli Lilly over Zyprexa, but not the first lawsuit. The company has set aside $1.2 billion to settle with about 31,000 private claimants.
A national business hired a local photographer to set up cameras and technical equipment in the courtroom for a daily live feed to interested paying clients, once the trial begins.
"Our market is attorneys, trial consultants, legal educators and the financial community," said John Shin of CourtroomLive, reached on his Baltimore-area cell phone Tuesday.
Clients can either watch streaming live video, or get video on demand of trial events after the fact for $300 a day, or both for $400, Shin said.
Jury selection started Monday and continued Tuesday. Rindner told prospective jurors he hoped the process would wrap up this morning, with opening statements to follow.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.