Ready to Rumble

Monsanto Trial Wisner

When I commute to Oakland or San Francisco, I pass many high-priced Silicon Valley billboards. The billboards most commonly advertise 1) Apple and 2) marijuana everything. People don’t have a “Pot Guy” anymore, it is rather a “Pot Concierge.” Cigarette billboards are outlawed, but the toned backside of two women wearing thong bikinis advertising “Best Buds” is totally acceptable. The legality of pot may have seemed like the right idea initially, but now there are so many stoned people driving the roads and most of the city smells like a hot-boxed pot car like those in the parking lot of Lollapalooza 1994. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for marijuana dependency to become the next public health crisis. Let’s work to get the extinction of Roundup completed ASAP, we have more fish to fry.

This morning, we will meet Monsanto’s first expert witness as they try to win back some of the enormous gains that the Plaintiff has made over the last several weeks of testimony. It looks like Wisner and Ismail are up today – it’s the first time that I’ve seen them go head to head, so I’m psyched to watch. A friend even called me to see if Wisner was up today so that she could come watch – yes, it is that entertaining.

Direct Examination of Dr. Celeste Bello

Dr. Bello is called to the front of the room – unlike the Johnson trial, these witnesses don’t have to wait outside until their names are called. They take a seat among us in the gallery and walk to the front when ordered. Bello is dressed in a soft sky blue blazer with a slight silver sheen, and appears perfectly professional and ready to take the stand.

Monsanto attorney Tarek Ismail and Bello discuss how today is her first experience as a witness in a courtroom. For her sake, I hope that she is prepared for the large hammer that will land on her as soon as Wisner takes the floor. I’m not certain that many know exactly what Wisner is capable of in a cross examination, because he’s been assigned so few cross-examinations this trial.

Dr. Bello is an oncologist/hematologist who specializes in managing Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at Moffit Cancer Center. She is tasked with testifying as an expert on Mrs. Pilliod’s NHL. Bello never spoke to Mrs. Pilliod, but did look at pages of her medical records.

Qualification Questions

Wisner stands to question Bello’s qualifications as a witness (legal term for this questioning = voir dire). A few minutes ago, I saw Wisner run back into the gallery to dig into a box of papers with urgency – the man was on a mission. He asks Bello to clarify how many papers she’s published, because her CV looks considerably leaner than her words suggest.

Over the course of the next few minutes, Wisner manages to whittle her list of published papers from “more than fifty” to 25. He helpfully points out that “25 is not more than 50.” Bello defends herself, claiming that other academic work has been left off of her CV, because she “is not the best at updating” it.

The jury is smiling.

One might think that Wisner would move on to a new topic, but he doesn’t. It’s intense, almost hard to watch, as he counts through exactly how many academic papers and projects she has completed. He asks what else should be on the CV, and she responds that some research that she has done for Pharma is not listed.

Wisner confirms with Bello that none of the papers that she wrote examine the causes of NHL. He also accuses her of not writing all of the research that she claims on her list. Wisner displays the study that Bello co-authored, and quizzes her on what her actual contributions were to the paper.  

Wisner asks Bello if she read the reports of Dr. Ritz and Dr. Portier, who have spent their careers trying to identify what chemicals might cause cancer. Bello responds that she too considers herself an expert in this area. Wisner counters that “You are as close to an expert as it comes, but you’ve never published on it. Never published on how chemicals cause NHL.”

Bello finally admits that her expertise is not in whether chemicals cause cancer. Wisner immediately moves to “exclude this witness because she is not an expert in chemicals causing cancer.” Judge Smith says no.

This show is so Wisneresque – he doesn’t just lightly question the qualifications, he makes a play for the whole “this witness is no expert” shebang. We in the gallery love it as we see Monsanto squirm. One guy says he’s going to run and get popcorn.

Speaking of such scenes, it will be quite the spectator event of year to watch Wisner take down Dr. Levine, who you might remember from the Hardeman trial. But that’s not until Monday.

Testimony of Dr. Celeste Bello

Ismail is back up. By now, readers can likely predict the content of Bello’s arguments. The jury looks tortuously bored, as are we. My friend Pete offers a round of strong mints to keep our blood flowing. Predictable arguments made:

  • The cause of NHL is unknown
  • Roundup was not the cause of Mrs. Pilliod’s cancer
  • Human epidemiology doesn’t support the link between formulated Roundup & NHL
  • A doctor would never make a list of potential causes and deliberate them like Nabhan did
  • Previous cancers like Mrs. Pilliod’s bladder cancer are risk factors for NHL
  • Her Hashimoto’s Disease is a risk factor for NHL
  • In trying to paint Nabhan a fool, Ismail says that Nabhan thought that common sense alone tells us that Roundup causes cancer. Bello responds that we have to use science, not common sense, in determining what causes cancer
  • There is no strong evidence to support spousal concordance in developing cancer
  • Epidemiology is much more important than genotox or animal studies when evaluating chemicals for carcinogenicity

Bellos (attorneys) “put together” a slide entitled: “Genotoxicity Is Not Cancer” to explain the difference between the two:

  • Genotoxicity = DNA damage
  • Mutagenicity = DNA damage that is (a) not repaired and (b) survivable
  • Carcinogen = DNA damage that is (a) not repaired (b) survivable & (c) confers a survival advantage

Wisner objects that this slide is far beyond the scope of Bello’s expert report. There is a sidebar, and the jury smiles and watches Wisner at the sidebar as he battles out what the scope of the expert testimony should be. We’ve once again got some intense expressions, some gesticulation, and a voice that occasionally resonates enough to emerge from the white noise. Sadly, not clear enough to understand. Wisner wins the ruling, the slide is taken down, and Ismail and Bello are reigned in.

Drum Roll! After a long walk through the epidemiology, again, Bello concludes that no evidence could possibly be better than the 2018 AHS study.  But her argument feels totally empty and scripted. In fact, nearly everything that Bello says feels scripted and memorized, not unlike Mucci’s testimonies.

Amidst the total and complete lack of entertainment, the poor jurors are truly struggling to keep eyes half-mast. Our friend at the end, closest to the witness stand, has pulled out her hand fan and frantically waves it to cool herself. Upon further assessment, I don’t think she uses it for temperature, but rather to help her keep eyes open when bored. I noticed that she didn’t use the fan a single time while Hottie Chadi was up on that stand.

Cross Examination of Dr. Celeste Bello

Wisner is amped to get going on his cross. During the direct, he moved his body very little, intensely focused on even the minutest of details of the testimony. I know of his mega-focus because he has repeatedly proven his memory to be insanely strong, down to the tiniest numbers on a variety of thick research papers.

Before giving some highlights, I want to warn you that this cross-examination is almost too painful to watch because Wisner and Bello are so unevenly matched. Bello appears quite unprepared for anything beyond superficial questions, and Wisner has the memory and execution skills that have earned him awards for being one of America’s “Most Influential Trial Lawyers.” If I weren’t so infinitely disgusted by Monsanto’s behavior, I would feel sorry for Bello that she will suffer the torture of Wisner’s sharp mind.

Bello says that she relied primarily on the data table in the EPA report on glyphosate to inform her own opinion. Wisner asks Bello if she realizes that the first study that the EPA lists in defense of glyphosate is the original, totally debunked IBT lab study from the 1970s. Bello replies that she doesn’t know what IBT even is.

HOLD UP – The most DELIGHTFUL OF DICKENS enters the courtroom!! A true Johnson trial reunion! He works for the Miller Law Firm, and has come out for the week in support of his team. The stars feel aligned now that Delightful Dickens is back in town.

Wisner wins point after point, including the following:

  • Bello claims that even if somebody sprayed and drenched themselves in DDT for 35 years, she still wouldn’t put DDT as the cause of someone’s NHL unless she saw a study that wasn’t just about some pelican or the like.
  • Wisner writes on his handy poster tablet “there is no evidence across the board that Roundup causes NHL” and asks Bello if she agrees with the statement. She says that she does agree. Wisner asks if she read Dr. Portier’s report. Bello did not read his report and instead deferred to the EPA’s summary which showed no indication of the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.

GG SIDEBAR: I think that Monsanto attorneys must have told Bello that when all else fails, just circle back to the EPA evaluation of glyphosate. She indeed does so several times, offering blind support to the regulatory agency without doing her own analysis at all. I hope that this woman is at least being paid well, because one day she will look back with embarrassment on this testimony.  

  • Bello has an unforgivingly strict respect for the statistical significance of any risk calculation in assessing whether to modify her clinical practice. If the odds ratio in a study suggests that a chemical leads to an increased, yet not quite statistically significant, risk of cancer, then it holds no value for her clinically.  Drink it up – must be safe.
  • The AHS studies looking at the effects of DDT and malathion exposure showed no increased risk of NHL from exposure to those two chemicals. Wisner comments: “But we know DDT is associated with NHL…AHS got it wrong.” Bello says that she doesn’t agree with that, and something else must be going on to influence those results.   
  • Bello concludes that she would not tell her patients that Roundup causes cancer, because the EPA says so. How horrible is that? She sends her NHL-ridden patients home to continue using the very chemical that gave them cancer. Disgusting.

Bello keeps looking at the clock, and looks a bit choked up. She SO wants this testimony to be over. And finally, it is. After a brief re-direct and re-cross, everyone is excused for the day.

Brilliant job Wisner!  Chalk one up for the the Plaintiff!

Final Notes

I am confident that the jury currently favors our side given their body language and response to Wisner’s humor.

We have 3 more expert witnesses who will testify through next Monday.

More soon!

4 Comments

  1. And therein lies the error. We are not cars where if there is no parking lot dint there is no damage. Every cell is alive and must function every day and when a chemical interferes with function, we fail.

  2. Hashimoto’s Disease also reacts powerfully to glyphosate. (Got into this with readers from NHN, autumn 2015, on blog.)

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