Judge upholds Monsanto verdict, cuts award to $78 million

In this Aug. 10, 2018, file photo, plaintiff DeWayne Johnson reacts after hearing the verdict in his case against Monsanto at the Superior Court in San Francisco. (AP)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Judge upholds Monsanto verdict, cuts award to $78 million

  • The jury awarded punitive damages after it found that the St. Louis-based agribusiness had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that its popular Roundup product causes cancer, including Johnson’s lymphoma

SAN FRANCISCO: A Northern California judge on Monday upheld a jury’s verdict that found Monsanto’s weed killer caused a groundskeeper’s cancer, but she slashed the amount of money to be paid from $289 million to $78 million.
In denying Monsanto’s request for a new trial, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos cut the jury’s punitive damage award from $250 million to $39 million. The judge had earlier said she had strong doubts about the jury’s entire punitive damage award.
Bolanos gave DeWayne Johnson until Dec. 7 to accept the reduced amount or demand a new trial.
Johnson’s spokeswoman Diana McKinley said he and his lawyers are reviewing the decision and haven’t decided the next step. “Although we believe a reduction in punitive damages was unwarranted and we are weighing the options, we are pleased the court did not disturb the verdict,” she said.
Monsanto spokesman Daniel Childs said that the company was pleased with the reduced reward but still planned to appeal the verdict. Childs said there’s no scientific proof linking Roundup to cancer.
The jury awarded punitive damages after it found that the St. Louis-based agribusiness had purposely ignored warnings and evidence that its popular Roundup product causes cancer, including Johnson’s lymphoma.
Punitive damages are designed to punish companies that juries determine have purposely misbehaved and to deter others from operating similarly.
In a tentative ruling on Oct. 11, Bolanos said it appeared the jurors overreached with their punitive damages award. She said then that she was considering wiping out the $250 million judgment after finding no compelling evidence presented at trial that Monsanto employees ignored evidence that the weed killer caused cancer.
The judge reversed course Monday and said she was compelled to honor the jurors’ conclusions after they listened to expert witnesses for both sides debate the merits of Johnson’s claim.
The judge said jurors are entitled to accept the conclusion of Johnson’s expert witness who said Roundup caused his cancer and reject the conclusions of Monsanto’s expert witnesses, who concluded there’s no proof the weed killer causes cancer.
“Thus, the jury could conclude that Monsanto acted with malice by consciously disregarding a probable safety risk,” Bolanos wrote in her ruling.
Some jurors were so upset by the prospect of having their verdict thrown out that they wrote to Bolanos, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial,” juror Gary Kitahata wrote. Juror Robert Howard said the jury paid “studious attention” to the evidence and any decision to overturn its verdict would shake his confidence in the judicial system.
The judge did slash the $250 million punitive damage to $39 million, the same amount the jury awarded Johnson for other damages.
Johnson’s lawsuit is among hundreds alleging Roundup caused cancer, but it was the first one to go to trial.
Johnson sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 at age 42.
Many government regulators have rejected a link between the weed killer’s active chemical — glyphosate — and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.


Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019
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Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.