Day 5 – Game, Set, Match!

Ritz Pilliod Monsanto Trial Roundup

I’m heading over the Bay today for my first date with the Pilliod trial. Thanks to AOJ, I have a sense of what to expect.

On my drive over, I listen to a new podcast from Dr. Zach Bush. Friends, if you haven’t had the chance to listen to Zach speak, please do so ASAP. He, like many of us – well, apparently not my readers from Bayer –  understands the devastation caused by Roundup and so eloquently orates on the mega impact of glyphosate on our soil, microbiome, and overall health. I’ve never heard anyone so movingly express the dramatic global health implications of glyphosate. He does not whisper sweet nothings to me, but instead tales of bacteria, deceit, fungi, viruses, mitochondria, and toxins; GGirl has a new crush.

The courthouse is in the middle of the rapidly gentrifying part of Oakland, where hipsters and cute shops have begun to replace the vacant, boarded up storefronts prevalent just a few years ago. Many people who used to live in San Francisco relocated here due to sky-rocketing housing prices, and have brought a more affluent flavor to Oakland.

The trial is in the courthouse’s administration building, which appears to be a sad mid-century annex to the beautiful main building. Security is a breeze, and I’m relieved that I can wear some of my more exciting shoes again – by the end of the Hardeman trial, I wore my Vegas-puchased Fila sneakers most days as to not have to take them off for security. On the day of the Hardeman verdict, I got serious stink eye from security because I happened to wear some suede pants with heavy zipper detailing. They said “WHAT NOT TO WEAR TO THE FEDERAL COURTHOUSE.”

Not to worry, federal courthouse security is unlikely to see me anytime soon because Judge Chhabria has called off the next trial, originally scheduled for the end of May. Hardeman v Monsanto was the first of what was supposed to be three bellwether trials in the federal court. Chhabria must assess that Bayer isn’t likely to win anytime soon, given the weight of the evidence on the Plaintiff side, and considers mediation a better use of time than another elaborate trial. I’m not holding my breath for a settlement – I don’t think either side is ready to go there.

To my investor readers, don’t be tricked by Bayer’s’ reassurances. I read that Bayer executives are defending their decision to acquire Monsanto, and claiming that they did their own thorough evaluations and diligence before the final acquisition. (I still suspect Monsanto presented Bayer a beautifully evasive sales pitch, and Credit Suisse gave them a high five upon completing the transaction.) If Bayer did indeed do its own evaluation, it was faulty, much like that of the EPA. For the regulatory agencies, they don’t have much to lose. Bayer, on the other hand, could lose the entire company. If it is any consolation, we have all been tricked by Monsanto, GGirl included.

TRIAL

Much of the old Johnson legal team is here today – it feels like a homecoming! As widely reported, the courtroom is tiny and wood-panelled. If the textured panels were repainted in a distressed white paint, it could easily be featured as Joanna Gaines’s latest creation of a farmhouse-style courtroom on HGTV’s Fixer Upper.

I’ve missed quite a bit in terms of the low down in the gallery. Apparently, Bayer has sent people to “observe” the trial, and it is creepy. I don’t think it is the trial itself that they are watching. Courtroom News has sent in their own attorney to – well, I’m not exactly sure what he is doing today. He boldly interrupts the other attorneys who are talking to Judge Smith to better understand whether portions of the transcripts would be sealed or unsealed.

Baum Hedlund and Miller Firm attorneys are collected at the front of the gallery. I see Monsanto attorney Sandra Edwards sitting alone on the Monsanto side, and still think her vibe belongs over with us. Plaintiff attorney Mike Miller will be doing the direct of expert witness Dr. Ritz today, and his family and friends have joined in the gallery to watch. They are the most congenial bunch of people and some serious good vibes are emanating from our side of the aisle. Also of note for the wondering single ladies, Baum Hedlund attorney with the dark long locks, Pedram Esfandiary, has a girlfriend and is off the market.

The jury enters and I get my first glimpse of the crew. We have an enormous spectrum of age, race, height and hair. A sampling:

  • 20-something young woman with a high Ariana Grande ponytail, who sometimes sits with her knees tucked behind her on the chair
  • Attentive retiree-type man in a perfectly appropriate short sleeved button up
  • 30-something brunette woman with some enviably high cheekbones and Kardashian lips
  • 20-something, tall, slim man with long, past the shoulders brown hair who echos a more-Berkeley, less-Hollywood Jared Leto style
  • 40-something man in a NASA windbreaker whose body language tells me he is confident in his science knowledge
  • 60-something man in a worn flannel shirt and extraordinary gray beard

The room is so small that the entry and exit of the jury is not particularly grand. But of course, we still stand. The center of the courtroom is jammed with two tables for counsel, desks for recorders and clerk, and video screens awkwardly erected here and there.

Direct Examination of Dr. Ritz

UCLA star Epidemiologist Dr. Ritz is back and we are all in for a treat! I’m thrilled to attend another testimony by this brilliant, bad-ass woman. It’s only been a few weeks since she last testified in the Hardeman trial, and I think that it will be a difficult testimony to top.

Plaintiff attorney Mike Miller takes the stage and walks through the numerous epidemiological studies that I have seen and discussed before. He has a friendly, slightly casual air that is warm and welcoming. There are some slight modifications to the content and order in which the ideas are presented, because we seem to learn what flies best with each trial iteration. Highlights of the direct are as follows:

  • Odds ratios are explained as (exposed & diseased)/(unexposed & diseased)
  • The works of our now old friends of epidemiology Eriksson, Hardell, Zhang, McDuffie, DeRoos, Cocco, NAPP, Orsi, and Andriotti are discussed. The conclusions of relevant risk ratios are written by Miller on a large exhibit with very tidy penmanship. Wisner does, however, dive in to make sure that the marker used is dry-erase vs permanent. You may remember when the Monsanto team used a permanent marker on the Plaintiff’s expensive exhibit in the Johnson trial.
  • Swedish studies tend to be quite reliable because the Swedes collect very solid data.
  • Statistical Significance is not “state of the art anymore” in terms of evaluating risk factors. A finding could be lacking statistical significance simply because the study is slightly too small. Statistical significance is helpful for medical students who need tools to make quick decisions, but otherwise should just serve as one piece of a comprehensive evaluation process.
  • The flaws in the AHS methodology and Andreotti study – we know them by now. Dr. Ritz and Miller present the issues in an extremely clear manner that will leave little doubt in the minds of the jurors that it is an unreliable study. Hopefully, they will remember that by the time epidemiologist Dr. Mucci comes around on behalf of the Defense.

Some pings of a phone start going off in the crowd, and none of us are sure from where they originate. I triple check my daughter’s unicorn/rainbow decorated phone that I borrowed after losing my phone on Spring Break in Hawaii, but it is muted. After several rounds of pings, Judge Smith reminds everyone that there is no technology allowed and to shut off all devices. I see Wisner walk over to Plaintiff attorney Jeffrey Travers to silence their very guilty iPad.

Looking down the line of the jury, I note one shorts-wearing juror gnawing on a long, red, plastic coffee stir stick like a Duke of Hazzard might a toothpick. The woman next to him looks a little annoyed. Back on the topic of jurors, this group is taking some mad notes today. They appear to follow and enjoy Dr. Ritz’s fabulous mini-lectures, like one might in a continuing education class. This jury likes Dr. Ritz, and on the Plaintiff side of the gallery, we are falling in love ourselves.

Breaking news – there is a new study! Thank goodness, I could use some variety on this third epidemiological go-around. The new research follows three large agricultural cohorts from France, Norway and the US (AHS), The study, Pesticide use and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoid malignancies in agricultural cohorts from France, Norway and the USA: a pooled analysis from the AGRICOH consortium, finds an elevated risk ratio for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and glyphosate (1.36, 1.00-1.85). Yet another piece of evidence to support what should have already been concluded: glyphosate is a carcinogen.

Cross Examination of Dr. Ritz

Plaintiff attorney Kelly Evans stands up to perform the cross. Evans is a very tall, large and somewhat intimidating man who seems that he could have formerly played football or rugby. Evans, like the rest of the men over at the Defense table, have perpetual frowns on their faces. At this point, Bayer has tried three different lawyer profiles:

  • Johnson: The jolly midwesterner Lombardi / sweet & smart Edwards / sharp & quirky Griffis
  • Hardeman: The youthful Dream Team of extremely highly educated, award-winning millennials who appeared unaccustomed to losing
  • Pilliod: Older, corporate men with little visible sense of humor

In Bayer’s defense, it likely is a good idea to mix things up in the composition of the legal team, just in case something works. Despite their attempts, I don’t think that any combination of Bayer attorneys can overcome the overwhelming evidence that Monsanto has known that Roundup is a carcinogen.

Highlights from the Dr. Ritz cross-examination:

  • Evans reviews Ritz’s CV and tries to catch her in a lie. On her CV, which was apparently last updated in 2018, she wrote that she was on the AHS external advisory committee from 2002 – current. Ritz replies that it is wrong, and should have read only through 2018 because she hadn’t updated it recently. Evans pettily says: “But you say current on your CV.”
  • Throughout the cross-examination, Evans keeps coming back to a point that Ritz never communicated criticisms of the AHS at any time while on the AHS advisory committee, until she was was hired by the Plaintiff attorneys. Ritz, with her sharpest wits about her, goes head to head with Evans in a match that also has the heads of the jury moving back and forth in sync, as if watching a tennis match! Ritz strongly states that her work on that committee was not to evaluate glyphosate or particular studies, but rather to discuss the process of the AHS itself.
  • Evans continues to press Ritz, pointing out (with a low, quick laugh) that she never studied glyphosate before these trials. He asks why she never suggested that the study involve a bigger, more comprehensive and informative intake questionnaire. Ritz responds that she was brought in well after the questionnaires had been completed. “We couldn’t fix it.” She was brought in in the middle of the follow-up questionnaire phase, about which she says: “I got stuck with that.” Ritz sharply protests Evans’s accusations stating that there was no way to change course in the middle of the second AHS assessment stage.
  • Evans revisits the slides from Dr. Ritz’s UCLA epidemiology class. Evans gets really turned around, as did the defense in Hardeman, in basing any argument off these slides meant for Ritz’s students. As Ritz proclaimed in the Hardeman trial, her slides are provocative ideas that provide the basis for her students’ classroom discussion. She would never put the answers on the slides because that would halt any debate and analysis in the class. Several members of the  jury are smiling at Ritz. I think we would all like to have a moment like the one Dr. Ritz has just enjoyed – absolutely owning your opponent in a tense debate.

With that, Evans asks for an afternoon break, but Judge Smith tells him to continue on. That is a shame for Evans because I can feel that he would like to regroup.

  • Evans quizzes Ritz on the NAPP study, which Monsanto has always said favors their side, but in reality doesn’t appear to do so. He asks her why she didn’t show the other numbers that came from the NAPP set of presentations, and Ritz retorts that aside from a bit of variation, the numbers were actually quite consistent in each presentation.
  • The AHS Andreotti study returns, and Evans and Ritz go head to head once again for a dramatic back-and-forth volley. The jury’s heads once again go back and forth in sync, with several smirks as Ritz punches back harder and louder each time.
  • Evans closes by listing the regulatory agencies’ conclusions on the apparent safety of glyphosate. Ritz wryly responds “They do their best.” HAHAHA

After a brief and effective redirect by Miller, we are done.

Game-Set-Match goes to Dr. Ritz!

Final Notes

  • Plaintiff starts the first half hour of video testimony of former Monsanto toxicologist Dr. Martens. It will be three hours in total, so I’ll save that recap for later. It shouldn’t reveal much in the way of new information.
  • Back tomorrow with Dr. Weisenberger!

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