The Trial Lawyer Fall 2017 - Page 50

LEGALBRIEFS AG Jeff Sessions Reinstitutes Asset Forfeiture Program U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed a new order restarting a federal asset forfeiture program that raked in millions of dollars for law enforcement — and had been shut down by the previous administration. The controversial “adoptive forfeiture” program allows police to seize a suspect’s property without charging the owner with a crime. But to get back their property, the owner must prove he or she was not involved in criminal activity. Sessions says he wants to send a clear message that crime doesn’t pay, unless of course it’s benefiting law enforcement. The program was started as a way to combat the illegal drug trade by seizing cash and other assets. This month, Sessions told local, state, and federal officers from around the country that civil asset forfeiture program is a key tool to defund organized crime. He wants to use confiscated assets to fund other priorities like supporting victims of crime, as well as providing more resources to police like new vehicles, bulletproof vests and better training. Local authorities were criticized for sidestepping state guidelines regulating civil forfeitures and were instead taking case and property under federal guidelines, which are more permissive. Law enforcement agencies brought in $65 million, just in the year leading up to the shutdown, money they shared with the feds. Sessions said 48 x The Trial Lawyer By Mollye Barrows Vigodsky and The Ring of Fire Network he’s implementing some safeguards, like how to handle seizures valued under $10,000. Turns out many of the seizures the gov’t made were under 10K, not exactly indicative of major crime, so Sessions is addressing that, while more than a dozen states have passed stricter laws making it more difficult for police to seize someone’s property, like requiring a criminal conviction first. But the bottom line is that local and state police now have the option, once again, to sidestep some reforms through the federal adoptive forfeiture process. A report by the Institute for Justice found that between 1997 and 2013, nearly 90% of the DOJ’s forfeitures did not require any criminal charge or conviction. While that’s not necessarily illegal, it was an incentive for local and state agencies to use the federal adoptive forfeiture program. Also other investigations have revealed that poor neighborhoods were often targeted for forfeitures. Again, not illegal, but not necessarily in keeping with the original intent of the program. Pharmaceutical Company AbbVie Hit With $150 Million Jury Verdict For Falsely Marketing Testosterone Product To Older Men A federal jury in Illinois ordered pharmaceutical company AbbVie to pay $150 million in punitive damages to a plaintiff who alleged t hat his heart attack was the result of using its testosterone-boosting product, AndroGel. Although the jury found that AbbVie was not liable for the plaintiff’s injury, they ruled that the company had engaged in fraudulent and misleading advertising. The plaintiff, 54-year-old Jesse Mitchell, suffered a heart attack in 2012 after using AndroGel over a four-year period. Attributing his use of the product to his heart failure, Mitchell filed suit in 2014. AbbVie’s defense counsel pointed out that Mitchell suffered from a number of other risk factors, including obesity, tobacco use, hypertension, high cholesterol levels and a family history of heart disease. While the jury acknowledged that AndroGel contributed to his heart attack, the large verdict against AbbVie resulted from their marketing and promotion. In 2012, AbbVie began an $80 million dollar ad campaign targeting men such as Mitchell who suffer from health issues and normal, age-related reductions in testosterone levels, leading to low energy and sex drive. AbbVie’s advertisements minimized the risk of myocardial infarction and the formation of blood clots, while promising immediate results. AndroGel did not have FDA approval for men suffering from co- morbidities such as Mitchell’s, yet AbbVie continued to aggressively promote the product as a viable treatment for what they called “Low T.” The jury in this case found that AbbVie had misled Mitchell and his physician about the health risks associated with the product. By withholding and downplaying those health risks in its aggressive marketing, AbbVie is also in violation of federal law. Although regulators called for more stringent package warnings in 2015, AbbVie has continued to maintain that AndroGel does not lead to higher risk of blood clots. During his closing argument, lead plaintiff’s counsel Troy Rafferty of the