Lawyers representing a man who blames his cancer on exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer are crying foul over what they say are close personal ties between a lead Monsanto lawyer and a special magistrate helping oversee the Roundup litigation.
In an Aug. 17 court filing, the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked for St. Louis County special master Robert Blitz to be disqualified from his role in the litigation because of an “appearance of impropriety” and questions about his impartiality.
A hearing on the matter is set for Tuesday.
There are dozens of plaintiffs named in the case, and all allege that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
One of the plaintiffs, Mark McCostlin, of Lenexa, Kansas, is set to go to trial against Monsanto in St. Louis County Circuit Court in early September.
The motion alleges that Monsanto lead attorney James Bennett “has a close relationship” with special master Blitz. The two men worked together as co-counsel in a separate case, and Bennett also has personally acted as legal counsel for Blitz and for his law firm, according to the motion.
Additionally, the two men are “effectively economic partners” in a contingency fee case that brought their two law firms $276.5 million in fees, which they split, according to the motion.
“Their relationship creates a conflict of interest such that Blitz is not qualified to serve as special master in any case in which Bennett is trial counsel,” the motion states.
Blitz declined to comment on the allegations. Bennett did not respond to a request for comment.
In the motion and a related affidavit, the plaintiffs’ lawyers point out that Bennett was only named as lead trial counsel for Monsanto in the case on Aug. 9. They say he is one of more than 40 attorneys of record for Monsanto in the case. Blitz was named special master in January of this year.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers said they asked Monsanto to agree to ask for Blitz to withdraw but the company declined. They say they also asked Blitz directly to recuse himself, but he declined to do so.
The case in question is among thousands of lawsuits still pending against Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG over claims that Roundup causes NHL. The trail of lawsuits started in 2015 and at one time involved more than 100,000 plaintiffs across the United States. Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup trial was getting underway, has sought to settle most of the cases. Bayer announced in 2020 that it would pay over $11 billion to try to settle the litigation.
Bayer maintains that glyphosate does not cause cancer and that products made with it can be used safety. The company states on its website that EPA and other regulatory reviews provide an “extensive body of research” that back the company’s safety pledge.