SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Two jurors who voted to hold Monsanto liable for a man’s fatal cancer from using the weed killer Roundup called a California judge's intention to gut the $289 million verdict “unreasonable” Thursday, and rejected criticism they had been emotionally manipulated into making the finding without evidence.
"What we did was not inflamed by passion or prejudice," juror Gary Kitahata said in a phone interview. "It was reasonable, and what the judge is doing is actually unreasonable."
In August, a unanimous San Francisco jury found Roundup caused school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson's non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Johnson isn't expected to live into 2020, and the 12-person jury awarded him $33 million for his reduced life expectancy.
Based on internal emails suggesting Monsanto ghost-wrote parts of scientific articles that found no link between Roundup's active ingredient glyphosate and cancer, and "questionable connections" between Monsanto and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the jury also found Monsanto knew about the herbicide's alleged carcinogenicity but hid its dangers from Johnson, and awarded him another $250 million in punitive damages.
Soon after, Monsanto asked San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos to overturn the verdict or order a new trial. The company, which was acquired by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer in June, argued Johnson's lead trial attorney Brent Wisner prejudiced the jury by making inflammatory remarks about Monsanto in opening and closing statements.
In one remark, the Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman attorney told jurors a verdict against Monsanto would "change the world."
He also told jurors he envisioned Monsanto executives huddled in a boardroom "waiting for the phone to ring" with news of the verdict from “Ms. Buck.” If the jury doesn't award a large enough damages award, "champagne corks will pop. 'Attaboys' are everywhere,” he said.
"Who's Ms. Buck?" juror Robert Howard asked by phone with a chuckle Thursday. "No one was like, 'Oh, wow, we're making history. Oh, wow, really? Champagne in the boardroom?'"
Both Howard and Kitahata said jurors disregarded Wisner's remarks in deliberations, writing them off as "legal theatrics" and "the style of these particular litigators." Both also noted Bolanos repeatedly instructed jurors to disregard the statements and warned they would otherwise be sanctioned.
"That didn't sound too good," Howard said. "I don't want any of that."
Kitahata said Wisner's remarks "may have come up in passing" during the jury's three days of deliberations, but he didn't remember discussing them.
"They were just not a factor," Kitahata said. "We were told not to consider it, so we didn't consider it."
On Oct. 10, Bolanos issued a tentative written ruling indicating she would overturn the $250 million punitive damages award because there was no "clear and convincing evidence" of malice by Monsanto to support it, but said she might instead order a new trial on punitive damages. In a hearing later that day, she suggested reducing the $33 million awarded for reduced life expectancy to about $9 million if she upholds the verdict.
In response, Howard, Kitahata and a third juror, Charlie Kaupp, wrote to Bolanos and appeared on local television news broadcasts urging her to uphold the verdict. They also questioned her review of the case.