Potential jurors had some brushes with pharmacist

Saturday, October 5, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some people who had a close brush with Robert Courtney's scheme to dilute cancer drugs were at his civil trial on Friday -- in the jury pool.

As attorneys sifted potential jurors to hear the lawsuit brought by a cancer patient against Courtney and two drug companies, juror No. 37 piped up, saying he got chemotherapy from Courtney's pharmacy about two years ago, though his doctor told him it was different than the medication Courtney was accused of diluting.

"I was fortunate," the man said. "I know people that didn't make it."

Another man, an anesthesiologist, said his wife's uncle may have gotten drugs from Courtney's pharmacy. It wasn't immediately known if either man made it to the next round of jury selection.

Hundreds suing

More than 400 people are suing Courtney and drug makers Eli Lilly & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Courtney has pleaded guilty to federal drug-tampering charges. The plaintiffs claim the drug companies should have done more to stop him.

Opening arguments had been planned for Monday. But jury selection was moving slowly and was not expected to be finished until at least Monday, and perhaps later, court spokeswoman Ellen Crawford said.

Potential jurors held blue sheets of paper printed with their juror number as they filed into the courtroom 18 at a time.

Each potential juror answered questions about how much they knew about the case, and whether they had strong opinions about drug companies.

Out of one group of 18, attorneys tried to get Jackson County Circuit Court judge Lee E. Wells to remove 10, saying the potential jurors seemed too biased to consider the case fairly. But Wells dismissed just two.

The main question

Jurors will be asked to decide whether the drug companies should have detected Courtney's drug scheme, which became publicly known in August of 2001.

Eli Lilly, based in Indiana, and New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb have denied any wrongdoing, saying they found out about the scheme around the same time the public did, and that they took all the security steps required by law.

Courtney pleaded guilty in February to federal charges of adulterating, misbranding and tampering with chemo-therapy medications. He will be sentenced in December.

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