Appeals court hears arguments in Courtney case about diluted drugs

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 | 4:53 p.m. CDT; updated 6:18 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 17, 2013

KANSAS CITY — An attorney for victims of a Kansas City pharmacist who diluted his patients' drugs for more than a decade told a Missouri appeals court Tuesday that previous settlements in the case should be reopened.

The arguments involve civil settlements reached more than a decade ago against two drug companies that were sued after Robert Courtney pleaded guilty in 2002 to diluting drugs used by his patients. Courtney, now 60, is serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison.

His patients, or their survivors, sued drug manufacturers Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., arguing that the companies were negligent for not uncovering Courtney's crimes. The companies denied the allegations but agreed in 2002 to settle the more than $70 million in claims.

For more than a year, 21 of Courtney's more than 400 victims or their families have pushed to reopen the lawsuits, contending the settlements were improper and did not allow them to receive the full value of their claims, The Kansas City Star reported.

After hearing arguments Tuesday in Kansas City, the appeals court judges agreed to consider whether decisions made years ago to seal important court records in the case were proper. After deciding that, the judges said they would consider whether the victims or their families can see new claims.

Attorney Arthur Benson, who represents the victims, argued Tuesday that too much court secrecy contributed to the bad settlements a decade ago and that the public has a right to see how its courts work.

Marie Spencer Woodbury, a lawyer for Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., argued the cases should remain closed and it is too late to reject the settlements.

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