Lawyer Who Secured Personal Injury Verdict Against Monsanto Accused By DOJ of $200 Million Extortion Scheme
Earlier this month the Justice Department arrested attorney, Timothy Litzenburg, on accusations of engaging in a $200 million extortion scheme against an undisclosed chemical manufacturing company that produces a product included in Monsanto’s popular Roundup herbicide.
According to the Department of Justice, through emails, phone calls, and meetings over the course of October and November, Litzenburg indicated to the company’s outside counsel that he would launch a “mass torts onslaught against the chemical company” unless he and two members of his co-counsel were paid $200 million as “consultants.”
The alleged extortion attempt is noteworthy because Litzenburg successfully sued Monsanto in August 2018 over its roundup product. Litzenburg represented Dewayne Johnson, who was awarded a $289 million personal injury verdict following a lawsuit arguing that Roundup caused his cancer after years of working as a groundskeeper/pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school. Throughout the trial, Litzenburg and his hos co-counsel contended that Johnson developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma through spraying Roundup and at his job. He was diagnosed with the disease in 2014 at age 42. With the verdict, the California Superior Court jury found that Roundup contributed to Johnson’s cancer, and agreed that Monsanto should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard.
Reuters reported that, while the alleged scheme was said to have been taking place, Litzenburg was a name partner of Kincheloe Litzenburg & Pendleton. The Kincheloe Litzenburg & Pendleton firm’s website is currently under construction, though Litzenburg appears to have launched a new website: litzenburgcancerlaw.com.
Litzenburg’s website indicates that, “In the wake of that victory [the $289 million judgment on behalf of Johnson], Mr. Litzenburg has started a new firm devoted to representing the victims of Monsanto.” The site does not list an address, but does provide a phone number with a Richmond, Virginia, area code.
Litzenburg is reportedly represented by Thomas Bondurant and Jennifer DeGraw of the Gentry Locke Attorneys firm in Roanoke, Virginia. In an email statement to Reuters, Bondurant indicated “We believe Mr. Litzenburg to be not guilty of the charged offenses,” and added, “An initial review indicates inaccuracies in the charging document, which causes concern.”
A Department of Justice affidavit from U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigator, Kevin Towers, indicates Litzenburg allegedly broached the consulting fee arrangement through communications in October by threatening the unnamed chemical manufacturer’s attorneys with a potential “tort crisis” for the company, should they not agree to pay his suggested fee. According to said affidavit, Litzenburg asserted he would name the company as a defendant in a lawsuit he intended to file publicly in the near future.
The affidavit goes on to detail how Litzenburg allegedly attempted to coerce the company into the consulting agreement with threats of an impending “onslaught of claims that would cost billions of dollars to resolve.” To that end, Litzenburg allegedly described the $200 million fee as a “very reasonable price.”
The chemical company’s lawyers reportedly contacted the Justice Department on Oct. 29. Following their communication, the Postal Inspector’s Office reportedly recorded the company’s lawyers’ exchanges with Litzenburg, which included email, phone, and face-to-face meetings. According to the Department of Justice via legal filings, during a recorded phone call Litzenburg allegedly said it would be “legal and ethical” for him to “steer clients away from claims against the company.” Moreover, according to a Reuters report, Litzenburg suggested he could “take a dive” and “ask the wrong questions” in a pre-suit deposition of a toxicologist from the company.
At this time, the Justice Department has yet to produce any emails or phone call recordings to substantiate their accusations. However, as many media outlets have noted, on the surface the criminal complaints against Litzenburg could easily be viewed as reinforcing the stereotypes tort defendants and tort reform supporters frequently cast against the plaintiffs’ bar.
PINews will provide updates if and when the Department of Justice proceeds further with their investigation.