Johnson & Johnson has been accused of trying to suppress speech by asking a judge to block the Reuters news agency from publishing a story about the pharmaceutical giant’s legal strategy to counter lawsuits claiming that its Baby Powder is a cause of cancer.
“The First Amendment is not a license to knowingly violate the law,” J&J said in a court filing in New Jersey this week.
The filing was made at the US Bankruptcy Court where the Big Pharma giant is trying to get protections from “bankruptcy” from 38,000 lawsuits alleging the company’s baby powder product was advertised as safe but had long-term cancer risks.
This week, Reuters reported that J&J had a secret plan to shift the liability from the lawsuits to a new subsidiary which would then declare bankruptcy to limit having to pay up over the cancer lawsuits.
J&J attempted to stop Reuters from publishing the story by requesting the judge intervene and issue a restraining order.
See the court filing here.
J&J accused Reuters of obtaining documents that were protected from public disclosure, demanding that Reuters return the documents and not publish any information.
The request asks for an order:
“(1) precluding the Reuters news agency from using or relying upon any documents designated as “Confidential” in this proceeding;
(2) requiring the return of any such documents; and
(3) ordering each attorney who has made an appearance in the above-captioned proceeding to submit to the Court a declaration under penalty of perjury stating whether he or she disclosed any materials designated as “Confidential” in this proceeding to Reuters (the “Motion”).”
Lawyers for Reuters, in a court filing, said that Johnson and Johnson’s request to stop the publication was “among the most extraordinary remedies a litigant can request under the law” and that the request was a “prior restraint of speech on a matter of public interest.”
After Reuters published its story, J&J withdrew their request for an immediate hearing but was “not prepared to agree” that the request about the documents was moot.