MEDFORD — News 10 was made aware Monday that a White City couple has been fighting Monsanto for over a year, claiming the husband's cancer was caused by the biotech company's most famous weed killer: Roundup. In attempting to get film coverage of the trial, News 10 and other outlets faced an opposition filing from Monsanto, resulting in the Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kolaches denying the presence of a camera in the courtroom.
When News 10, KOBI and the Courtroom View Network requested a camera in the courtroom under Uniform Trial Court Rule 3.180, Monsanto's lawyers filed an opposition to the broadcasting request, saying in their filing that "under the guise of public access, these organizations (News 10 et al.) aim to swoop into the courtroom at the tail end of a weeks-long trial, in hopes of stirring up a media spectacle and capturing public attention for profit."
Johnson vs. Monsanto is Oregon's first lawsuit relevant to a 2020 settlement that promised 10.9 billion in damages to tens of thousands of plaintiffs who showed in court that their Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma came as a direct result of exposure to glyphosate, an active ingredient in Roundup.
The settlement also allowed Monsanto to continue selling Roundup without safety warnings.
Larry and Gayle Johnson of White City claim that Larry was routinely exposed to Roundup since the 1990s until 2019 when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Johnson has been through chemotherapy treatments and is uncertain about his future, spending roughly $567,703.39, according to the original lawsuit filing.
Monsanto insists that decades of research have concluded that glyphosate is safe for humans, but WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) designated the chemical as "probably carcinogenic in humans."
In a hearing Wednesday, June 8 to consider having a camera in the courtroom for the remainder of the trial, the plaintiff's counsel noted that they did not disagree with the motion to exclude a camera, but they did not formally join the motion or submit any documents against having a camera.
Monsanto's counsel, George Lombardi, argued that having a camera in the remainder of the proceedings would distract the jurors, put unfair scrutiny on Monsanto and create a "media circus" similar to the Depp/Heard trial in which Monsanto witnesses and lawyers could be lampooned with memes and TikTok posts, or even threatened by viewers.
"What will the jurors thinkwill they think there is something sensational about what Monsanto is going to do?” Lombardi argued. “We know they will notice it and we know it will have an affect on them but we don’t know what that will be.”
Judge Charles Kolaches allowed the Courtroom View Network editor David Siegel to answer a question on the phone, but he did not allow News 10 representatives to share our prepared comments.
Siegel noted that CVN was unaware of the trial until recently, filing their camera request on June 1, pointing out that no media outlets have covered this case in the year that its gone on. He added that he Jackson County Court's media submission's website only specifies that a request must be made 2 hours before the beginning of proceedings, which
Kolaches expressed that he did not fully agree with Monsanto's counsel's points except the potential safety issues, but he ruled that adding a camera after having selected the jury could put the proceedings at risk for a mistrial if any jury members decided quit over feeling pressured by a camera.
“I can not have the jury know coming out seeing the camera and thinking 'I am now on a high profile trial? I never signed up for this, I can’t handle the pressure, I don’t want the criticism.'" Kolaches said. "I can not have any jurors announce unavailability or refusal to participate."
The First Amendment Encyclopedia from Middle Tennessee University argues that today's camera technology is less distracting for jurors, and "under the watchful eyes of thousands of viewers, the judge, attorneys, and jurors are more likely to pay careful attention to the facts of a case and be on their best behavior, helping to ensure fairer trials."