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Fees for the Omnibus Autism Proceeding hit $7M

Posted Feb 19 2010 4:38pm

In the United States, the court hearings on whether vaccines cause autism were held under the Omnibus Autism Proceedings (OAP). These proceedings represented over 5,000 families who filed for consideration that they had a child who (a) suffered a vaccine injury and (b) this injury resulted in autism.

The OAP heard six “test cases”. Each test case represented both the question of whether the specific test-case child considered suffered a vaccine injury and also the general question of whether the idea that vaccines cause autism was proven.

The first three test cases considered the question of whether the MMR vaccine could cause a vaccine injury resulting in autism. The second three test case considered the question of whether thimerosal containing vaccines could cause vaccine injury resulting in autism.

The decisions from the MMR cases have been handed down, and they were unanimously and definitively against the MMR causes autism theory. These have been appealed and that appeal was denied. I believe an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court has been either filed or planned.

The decisions in the thimerosal cases have not been handed down yet.

The OAP was a very long process, starting in 2002 and still ongoing, involving multiple law firms and many lawyers and experts. It has been an expensive process. We are slowly learning just how expensive.

Last year an interim award of over $2M in legal fees was granted for lawyers working on the Cedillo test case. That was the first case heard in the MMR segment of the AOP.

The Court has now granted an interim award of $2,300,000 for the King test case, the first heard in the Thimerosal segment of the AOP.

During an unrecorded telephonic status conference on July 1, 2009, the law firm of Williams, Love, O’Leary, and Powers (WLOP) agreed to reduce its interim attorneys’ fees and costs request from $3,101,764.84 to $2,300,000.00, including $2,070,000 in fees and $230,000 in costs. Respondent’s counsel then indicated that respondent will not object to that amount. WLOP’s reductions included: the withdrawal of time and expenses relating to direct legislative lobbying, that is, any activity relating to efforts to affect the outcome of the political process; the withdrawal of time and expenses relating to “case specific” work in cases other than this claim, and unrelated to “general causation” work on the OAP; the withdrawal of time and expenses WLOP conceded were related exclusively to civil cases outside of the Vaccine Program; and the withdrawal of time and cost claims relating to public relations and media work during the pendency of the OAP. In addition, WLOP generally reduced the fees it requested for time spent on the OAP. Finally, WLOP agreed to significantly reduce the expenses for which it sought reimbursement, particularly those costs incurred while on travel.

Let me highlight a couple of statements:

the withdrawal of time and expenses WLOP conceded were related exclusively to civil cases outside of the Vaccine Program.

and

WLOP’s reductions included: the withdrawal of time and expenses relating to direct legislative lobbying, that is, any activity relating to efforts to affect the outcome of the political process

Bold is mine.

Apparently, the law firm applied for and was denied funding for work done for civil cases that were outside of the vaccine program and for lobbying efforts. What were they thinking trying to get tack that onto their fee request? Let’s face it, the Omnibus has already subsidized any upcoming civil cases by giving the lawyers time to research their arguments and pay experts. And, really, asking the program to pay for lobbying?

This is only an “interim” fee request. Fees are still mounting, and not all the past fees have been assessed:

Of note, this Decision resolves all fees and costs requested by the WLOP firm in the King interim fees application, at Tabs A & B of that application. This Decision does not resolve the amounts requested at Tabs C through U of that application.

I don’t know how much is involved with “Tabs C through U”, but it sounds like the remaining fees could be considerably more than the $2.3M granted.

It is interesting to note that the father/son team of David and Dr. Mark Geier have expert fee requests submitted (and as yet unpaid) for this case, even though they were not called as witnesses and, to my knowledge, did not submit expert reports:

This does not resolve the vast majority of fees and expenses relating to Drs. Geier and Young. The majority of expenses relating to Dr. Geier, David Geier, and Dr. Young are included in the PSC Committee Costs, at Tab C of the initial Fee Application

The Geier’s are well known “experts” in the vaccine court. Young, I suspect, is the same person as co-authored a paper with the Geiers purporting to show a link between neurodevelopmental disorders and thimerosal in vaccines. That paper was reported to have been recieved funding “...from the Autism Petitioners’ Steering Committee of the no-fault National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP).”

I am all for petitioners in the Vaccine Court having access to good experts. I don’t consider the Geier team to meet that standard. Should the Petitioners’ Steering Committee have decided to fund this reasearch, I see that as their expense, not one that should be passed on to the vaccine program. Dr. Mark Geier has been referred to in court documents as:

There are multiple cases where Dr. Geier’s opinion and testimony have been given little or no weight because they exceeded the scope of his expertise.

and

Dr. Geier is “a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise, and experience”

I frankly suspect that funding The team of Young, Geier and Geier in this instance is another attempt to get the Vaccine Program to pay for work the lawyers expect to use in the civil cases that will follow the likely rejection of the Vaccine Court hearings. Remember, they weren’t called as expert witnesses in the Omnibus.

One other expert witness of note, Dr. Vas Aposhian, is also mentioned in the fee ruling:

This decision resolves the $34,048.25 that WLOP requested for expenses related to Dr. Aposhian ($31,750.00 in fees; and $2,298.25 in expenses incurred in May 2008). This decision does not resolve the $207,382.53 in fees and expenses included in the PSC Committee Costs for costs relating to Dr. Aposhian, nor does it resolve the $7,910 requested by Williams Kherkher for costs associated with Dr. Aposhian. See Tab C at 3887 and Tab E at 4396-98.

We don’t have the decisions from the King hearing yet, but here are some comments from the Cedillo decision:

Thus, concerning this issue [genetic hypersensitivity to mercury], I conclude that the testimony of Drs. Brent and Cook was persuasive, and that the testimony of Dr. Aposhian was not.

I find that Dr. Brent’s testimony on this point [the lack of an established mercury efflux disorder] was persuasive, and that the testimony of Dr. Aposhian was not.

I wonder if Dr. Brent, whose expertise was persuasive, will be paid anything like the roughly quarter million dollars that Dr. Aposhian has billed.

So we have $2M in fees granted for the Cedillo hearings, and now $2.3M for the King hearings. This is part of a total of over $7,000,000 requested in interim fees:

In their application, the petitioners sought a total of $7,202,653 for interim fees and costs. This total reflected the fact that this case was, as explained above, one of the “test cases” in the OAP. Because this was a “test case,” in which the petitioners sought to present all of the “general causation” evidence concerning the theory that thimerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism, several different law firms participated in the development and presentation of the evidence, while five expert witnesses prepared expert reports and testified at length for petitioners during the evidentiary hearing. The high total sought reflects the participation of all those law firms and expert witnesses.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that this is a very expensive proceeding.

Millions of dollars were spent trying to prove the now discredited (and never well supported) hypothesis of Dr. Wakefield. The thimerosal hypothesis also never had much substance, and has cost millions more.

One thing good out of all this is that the proceeding also paid to compile expert reports from some real experts debunking the MMR and Thimerosal myths.

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