Prempro Lawyers Double Money in $62 Million Fee FightJef Feeley
Lawyers who battled Pfizer Inc. for more than a decade over women’s cancers linked to the company’s Prempro menopause drug settled a rare public dispute over $62 million in fees.
Zoe Littlepage and Rainey Booth, who won a half-dozen verdicts for women who blamed their breast cancer on Prempro and other menopause medicines, are slated to receive more than $21.8 million in fees under the settlement, unveiled in court filings in Arkansas. That’s more than twice what they were originally assigned to get from the so-called common-benefit fund, according to court filings.
Littlepage and Booth objected last year to recommendations by colleagues that they share $9.52 million for more than 11 years of litigation against New York-based Pfizer and its Wyeth and Upjohn units over the hormone-replacement drugs. In a rare tactic, the two lawyers took the fee fight public.
“Ms. Littlepage and Mr. Booth compromised as to what they felt their time -- and value -- was in order to reach a settlement,” Littlepage said in a letter yesterday to U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson in Little Rock.
Settlements of disputes over common-benefit fees are common among plaintiffs’ lawyers in product-liability cases, said Carl Tobias, who teaches mass-tort law at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Such fees are paid for work done on behalf of all litigants in a consolidated case.
“Sometimes it just pays to object to your fee allocation,” Tobias said yesterday in an interview. “These two lawyers were instrumental in leading the litigation, and they more than earned their fee awards.”
Tobias Millrood, a Philadelphia-area lawyer who tried several Prempro suits against Pfizer and led the fee-allocation committee, didn’t reply to a call and an e-mail yesterday seeking comment on the settlement. He and his firm are to get more than $5.6 million in fees from the fund.
Erik Walker of Texas, who helped lead the consolidated cases before Wilson, is slated to get more than $7.1 million while Oregon attorney Michael Williams, also part of the leadership group, was allocated more than $5.7 million, according to court filings. Walker didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
Rob Jenner, a Baltimore-based lawyer who also oversaw Prempro cases in both state and federal court, is slated to receive more than $4.5 million from the common-benefit fund, the filings show.
As part of the settlement, Millrood, Littlepage, Booth and other lawyers agreed “not to communicate with press or media about” the accord and only say “the parties have amicably resolved their dispute over fees and expenses,” according to court filings.
Littlepage, of Houston, led a group of attorneys for 8,500 women who sued Pfizer in federal courts over hormone-replacement therapy products.
More than 6 million women took Prempro and other menopause drugs to treat symptoms including hot flashes and mood swings before the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative, a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, highlighted the medicines’ cancer links. Wyeth’s sales of the drugs, which are still on the market, exceeded $2 billion before the study came out.
The fee fight came after Pfizer settled cases alleging the drugmaker hid Prempro’s breast-cancer risks to boost sales. The company said in a securities filing last year that it paid about $1.7 billion to resolve 98 percent of the lawsuits filed over the drugs. The company didn’t admit wrongdoing.
Federal suits over the menopause drug were gathered before Wilson in Little Rock for pretrial information exchanges. The judge, who named Littlepage as lead plaintiffs’ counsel in 2003, has final say over fee awards.
After Littlepage and Booth, of Pensacola, Florida, objected to their awards, Wilson appointed a retired federal judge to review the fee claims. A 16-hour mediation in April led to the settlement, Littlepage said in her letter to Wilson.
The settlement involved cutting fees allocated to other lawyers to increase Littlepage’s and Booth’s proposed 23.8 percent of the fund by more than 11 percent, according to court filings.
“In many common-benefit cases, the value of the attorneys’ work to the plaintiffs is low and the amount of the attorneys’ fees is suspect,” Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s business and law schools, said in an e-mail. “But this is a case in which the attorneys battled as hard for the injured parties as they did for themselves.”
The consolidated Prempro case in Arkansas is In re Prempro Products, 03-cv-015070, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock).