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Johnson & Johnson is one of the world’s most recognizable healthcare companies, with a history of producing and selling pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices since the late 1800s. Despite recent product recalls and lawsuits targeting several of the company’s medications, Johnson & Johnson remains one of the most powerful brands in the world based in large part on its Johnson’s brand of baby products.
Now, Johnson & Johnson is in the unusual situation of being accused of witness tampering in two different cases pending in Texas and Pennsylvania. The allegations are based on conversations the company’s sales representatives had with doctors who were scheduled to testify at trial.
While it is unclear whether any wrongdoing truly occurred, the fact is that witness tampering, particularly in federal court, is a very big deal regardless of whether you’re Johnson & Johnson or Mike Johnson.
Texas Case Opens Door
In the Texas case, Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Orthopaedics unit is accused of producing and selling a defective, metal-on-metal hip implant that is targeted in more than 9,000 pending cases filed by patients who blame the device for a variety of injuries.
The lawyer representing the hip implant plaintiffs dropped a bombshell in mid-October when he announced that he would not be questioning a doctor who was scheduled to testify because of alleged witness tampering by a DePuy sales rep. The claim was based on an affidavit from the doctor, who said the sales rep told him he was worried that “there could be ramifications” for the doctor’s medical practiced based on his upcoming testimony, which was only three days away.
The judge overseeing the case called in the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate the claims, with Johnson & Johnson noting that the doctor later said the conversation with the sales rep would not have impacted his testimony.
Apparently satisfied with what he heard after interviewing the sales rep and the company’s lawyer outside the presence of the jury, the judge found no evidence of criminal activity and has allowed the trial to proceed.
A Johnson & Johnson spokesman has said the judge’s ruling proves the company did nothing wrong. The lawyer for the plaintiffs told reporters that he hopes the episode “will inhibit DePuy from tampering in the future.”
Xarelto Case Brings New Claims
In Pennsylvania, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit is being sued over the company’s Xarelto anticoagulant medication. The popular blood-thinner is blamed for causing strokes, excessive blood loss, pulmonary embolisms, and a variety of other medical problems.
Following the news of the witness tampering claims in Texas, attorneys representing the plaintiff in the Xarelto case filed a similar court motion accusing a Johnson & Johnson sales rep of potentially trying to influence the testimony of a doctor who was set to testify only weeks later. According to the plaintiff’s lawyers, her doctor previously had said she suffered from gastrointestinal bleeding complicated by Xarelto, but changed his testimony to deny knowing that she ever had the bleeding.
Johnson & Johnson’s legal team say the lawyers representing the Xarelto plaintiff are making overbroad assumptions, and that the sales rep’s conversation with the doctor had nothing to do with his upcoming testimony. The court has ruled that the plaintiffs’ attorneys can question the sales rep in a deposition that will take place while the trial is proceeding.
With Johnson & Johnson being accused of witness tampering in back-to-back cases, it’s worth noting that the same law firm represents the company in both lawsuits. It’s also interesting that the same scenario of a sales rep trying to influence a testifying doctor is being alleged in both instances.
As noted earlier, federal witness tampering is serious business. Under 18. U.S. Code § 1512, anyone who “uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or engages in misleading conduct” to influence witness testimony could face a 20-year prison sentence and additional fines.
While doctors and sales reps talk with each regularly as part of their jobs, the more prudent practice would be to impose a communications blackout in the days and weeks prior to a doctor taking the stand in court. It certainly would have prevented the situation that Johnson & Johnson and the company’s sales reps are facing today.