A judge presiding over Oregon’s first Roundup weedkiller cancer trial that has been ongoing for a year denied the presence of a camera in the courtroom for the remainder of the proceedings.
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kolaches sided with Monsanto’s opposition filing on June 6, which was filed in response to requests from Courtroom View Network (CVN) as well as two Oregon media outlets, KOBI and News 10, which sought to obtain film coverage of the trial, Johnson vs. Monsanto.
Larry and Gayle Johnson, a married couple, claim that Larry’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was caused by frequent exposure to Roundup that occurred from the 1990s until his diagnosis in 2019. According to KVTL.com, Johnson has endured several rounds of chemotherapy treatments and claimed in his lawsuit that he has spent over half a million dollars for medical treatments relating to his cancer. The Johnsons are seeking $40 million in total claims.
In response to the media outlets’ filming request, under Uniform Trial Court Rule 3.180, Monsanto's lawyers responded by filing an opposition request, which alleged that "under the guise of public access, these organizations 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."
Monsanto attorneys further argued that placing a camera in the courtroom for the remainder of the trial would create a "media circus" similar to the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial, resulting in a distracted jury and placing Monsanto in a negative light. Monsanto's legal representation further argued that the corporation’s attorneys and witnesses would be ridiculed on TikTok posts and memes and that Monsanto witnesses could even be threatened by viewers.
Judge Kolaches allowed a CVN editor to answer a question on the phone but denied representatives from KTVL (News 10) the chance to make prepared comments.
The CVN editor told Judge Kolaches that he was unaware of the trial until recently, which explains why the filing for the camera request came on June 1, roughly a year after the trial first started. CVN’s editor also pointed to the fact that no other media outlets have covered Johnson vs. Monsanto.
Judge Kolaches explained his decision, stating, “I can not have the jury now 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 added, "I can not have any jurors announce unavailability or refusal to participate."
According to Middle Tennessee University’s First Amendment Encyclopedia, 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."
Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer AG in 2018 for $63 billion, faces 30,000 similar lawsuits. The company resolved approximately 100,000 Roundup cancer claims in 2020 with a nearly $11 billion settlement, which allowed Roundup to continue to be sold without a cancer warning label.
After returning multi-million damage awards for plaintiffs in the first three consumer Roundup cancer trials, juries have returned defense verdicts in the three most recent cases.
UPDATE June 17: A jury reached a unanimous defense verdict in Johnson et al. v. Monsanto Co in Oregon state court, handing Bayer its fourth consecutive Roundup trial win.