January 5, 2017

Judge cuts $1B award against Johnson & Johnson; plaintiffs hire Ken Starr for appeal

Texas Lawyer reports that a Dallas federal judge has cut last month's $1.04 billion punitive damages award against Johnson & Johnson down to $540 million.  That ruling was expected, as we noted in our prior post about this case.  It is also no surprise that both sides are unhappy with that result, and both sides have vowed to appeal.

What is surprising, however, is that the plaintiffs have hired Ken Starr to defend the billion-dollar punitive damages award on appeal.  He has been an outspoken critic of punitive damages throughout his career.  In his days as Solicitor General, he chaired a working group that drafted a report calling for various tort reforms relating to punitive damages.  A few years later, he gave an address at Fordham law school, advocating for the total abolition of punitive damages:  "Abolishing punitive damages would be an important, non-tinkering step toward real reform in the law."  (See Law and Lawyers: The Road to Reform (March 1995) 63 Fordham L. Rev. 959, 968.)

Of course, lawyers are professional advocates and we often make arguments for our clients that differ from our own private beliefs.  Still, it's surprising that Ken Starr would take this particular case.  The plaintiffs are probably thinking that his background will lend credence to the argument that, if billion-dollar punitive damages are to exist at all, this is the appropriate case for it.