Do Plaintiffs’ Counsel Perceive New Jersey MCL Judge Harz as a More Favorable Jurist?

Earlier this month, we wrote about some changes to New Jersey’s MultiCounty Litigation Program–specifically the retirement of Middlesex County MCL Judge James Hyland and the appointment of Judge Bruce Kaplan to succeed him. As we noted, Judge Kaplan has now taken over management of those MCL litigations that have been assigned to Middlesex County (with the exception of the asbestos litigation assigned to Judge Viscomi).

After we wrote about those changes, the New Jersey Supreme Court has posted the most recent application submitted for designation of a new MCL litigation in New Jersey. That application–a copy of which can be found here—was submitted by plaintiffs’ counsel in a number of cases involving the Novartis prescription drug Tasigna and asks for centralization of all pending New Jersey state court cases–of which the application says there are 64–before MCL Judge Rachelle Harz in Bergen County, NJ.

According to the application, none of the 64 cases presently filed are pending in Bergen County, and instead have been filed in Morris, Camden, Essex, and Ocean counties. The arguments submitted by plaintiffs’ counsel in favor of centralization of these cases are not surprising: large number of parties, common issues of law and fact among claims, and asserted conveniences for the parties, witnesses, and counsel. However, the fact that plaintiffs’ counsel specifically asked for centralization before Judge Harz in Bergen County–as opposed to suggesting MCL Judge Kaplan in Middlesex or any of several MCL judges in Atlantic County–suggests that plaintiffs’ counsel may perceive Judge Harz to be a more favorable judicial draw.

In the past, for example, when the late Judge Carol Higbee served as the MCL judge in Atlantic County, many applications were submitted by different plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking centralization and assignment to her because of their perception that she was a more plaintiff-friendly choice. Likewise, once Judge Higbee’s successor Judge Nelson Johnson issued several decisions favorable to defendants, plaintiffs’ lawyers stopped asking for assignment to Atlantic County.

Plaintiffs’ application indicates that Novartis is expected to file opposition, and it is not clear whether that opposition will be to both centralization of the cases as an MCL and assignment to Judge Harz, or just to plaintiffs’ Bergen County request. The New Jersey Supreme Court will, of course, make its own decision about whether to order the centralization of these cases in an MCL, and if it does, it is not constrained to accept plaintiffs’ request for Judge Harz. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on this application, if plaintiffs in future applications continue to request Judge Harz, it would be reasonable to assume that there is indeed a preference for her on the plaintiffs’ side of the bar.

 

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