Roche Wins Battle in Recusal Fight

We continue to follow with great interest the on-going efforts by Hoffman-La Roche to force the recusal of Judge Carol Higbee, who has been overseeing the thousands of claims pending against Roche involving Accutane in the Superior Court of New Jersey.  Up until now, Roche’s efforts have been unsuccessful, beginning with Judge Higbee’s initial denial of the recusal application, followed by the New Jersey Appellate Division’s rejection of Roche’s application for leave to appeal that denial.

However, Roche’s fortunes may be changing — at least a little bit.  Law360 is reporting (registration required) that the New Jersey Supreme Court has remanded the issue back to the Appellate Division with instructions to permit Roche to file an emergent motion.  The Order issued by the NJ Supreme Court also ordered a stay of all underlying proceedings in the Accutane litigation pending before Judge Higbee, subject to Roche’s compliance with whatever instructions are issued by the Appellate Division.  While the Order from the NJ Supreme Court does not explicitly say so, the clear implication is that the Appellate Division is to consider the merits of Roche’s challenge to Judge Higbee.

Because of the important role that Judge Higbee plays as one of the four New Jersey judges who are specially assigned to manage centralized litigation under New Jersey’s multicounty litigation program, the results of Roche’s challenge will be of significant interest to all practioners involved in multicounty litigation in New Jersey.  It remains anyone’s guess as to how this will ultimately turn out, so stay tuned for further developments.

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