Judge Higbee Denies Motion to Recuse

In December, we noted that defendants in the Accutane litigation pending in Atlantic County, New Jersey had filed a motion seeking to recuse Judge Carol Higbee, to whom virtually all the Accutane cases in New Jersey have been assigned since 2005.  In their application, the defendants — Hoffman-La Roche Inc. and Roche Laboratories Inc. — detailed examples of what they believed were indicative of both actual and apparent bias on the part of Judge Higbee against the defendants and in favor of the plaintiffs.  Oral argument in connection with the defendants’ motion was held in January, and yesterday Judge Higbee issued her opinion denying the defendants’ motion.

In a seventeen-page memorandum decision, Judge Higbee defended her handling of the Accutane litigation, including her appearance, along with one of the plaintiffs’ counsel, on a panel at a seminar sponsored by the Defense Research Institute’s Drug and Medical Device Committee during which aspects of the Accutane litigation was discussed.  In addition, she discussed several instances in which she believed that lawyers for the defendants were insufficiently candid with the Court and/or were engaged in litigation activity that she deemed inappropriate, and suggested that the lawyers for the defendants were generally more difficult to manage than were the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

As with the initial filing of the motion, the issuance of this decision has drawn quick attention from commentators such as Law360 (registration required).  It remains to be seen whether the defendants will seek to appeal Judge Higbee’s denial of their motion, or whether the filing of this motion will have any apparent impact on the continued handling of the Accutane litigation.  And because Judge Higbee is also charged with overseeing several other consolidated multicounty litigations, whether this motion has any perceived effect on those litigations is also something that will be watched with great interest.

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