Excerpt from Trial By Fire by Mike Burg.
Ortho-McNeil made and sold a birth control patch from 2002 to 2015. It failed to work and caused massive strokes. Attorney Mike Burg led the plaintiffs' attorneys in the mass tort litigation against the company, and was conducting the deposition of Dr. Andrew Friedman, a top executive at the company.
Andrew Friedman had worked for a while as a researcher at Harvard as well as at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. After graduating from Amherst College, he was hired by a pharmaceutical company to do studies on Lupron, a medication to treat endometriosis and severe PMS. He had three studies on the drug published in peer-reviewed magazines.
One day, Friedman's assistant went to Friedman's boss and said that he had never seen the data on the published studies. When confronted by his boss, Friedman made excuses and distributed the blame. To cover himself, Friedman put fake medical notes in his patients' records at Harvard and at Brigham and Women's, saying that the women participated in a study that they had not taken part in. He then turned the fake notes over to his boss.
But Friedman wasn't quite as smart as he thought he was. His boss looked the notes over and told him that he had a problem. He had printed the fake results on a printer that showed it came from a copy machine that did not exist at the time the study had supposedly been done. He gave himself away with a sloppy error. Caught, he admitted that he had faked the data, as well as the entire study. He was fired from Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital and had his medical license suspended for two years.
Sixty days later, the jobless Friedman received a call from Johnson & Johnson offering him a job as a consultant for the Ortho Evra patch. He accepted. Did he pause to inform his new employers that his medical license had just been revoked due to negligence and laziness on studies on a medication of equal importance and with equal impact on women's health? Of course not. He did not have to disclose that information, because they knew all about it when they hired him. He was the man Johnson & Johnson wanted for the job.
Friedman became the medical face of the Ortho Evra patch. Within eight months, he was named director of women's health at Ortho-McNeil, Johnson & Johnson's subsidiary that produced Ortho Evra. He earned a massive amount of money in a position he should not have been in-one he held at the cost of the health and even the lives of thousands of women.
Being the lead in Ortho Evra, I assigned myself to take his deposition. It is probably one of my favorite depositions, right up there with the Little Rascals case, but for a much different reason. There were three cameras in the room where the deposition was held, one on me, one on the defense lawyer, and one on Friedman. Shortly after I started, Friedman began sweating. Soon, he was perspiring like Albert Brooks' character trying to anchor the news in Broadcast News.
I bore down hard on this guy, whom I was determined to expose as a fraud. "You admitted, in your transcripts with the state, that you both lied and cheated," I said, referring to the Lupron papers. "I want to ask you, which was worse, the lying or the cheating?"
"They're both bad," he said.
"Yes, but which was worse?" I pressed.
Before he could answer, I kept going. "Were you nervous?" I asked. "Was it easier the second and third studies that you phonied up?"
He shifted nervously in his chair. My suspicion was that if one, two, or three of the studies had been faked, then it 'was likely that others had been, too. I was calling into question his entire career.
Friedman regrouped. As an excuse for faking the data, he cited chronic knee pain. He launched into a story about playing tennis at Amherst that had caused the knee pain, which was supposedly the reason he didn't have enough time to complete the studies and faked his data. For added drama, he also claimed that his son had been diagnosed with. attention deficit disorder at the time, and that, too, had taken him away from the lab.
There was no way I was going to let this guy off the hook. "You played tennis at Amherst?" I asked.
"Yes, I did," he said confidently.
"Let me ask you something. When you were at Amherst playing tennis did you ever call a ball that was in out, or one that was out?”
He shook his head. "I would never do that."
"Oh, I see. So you waited until people's lives were at stake before you started to lie and cheat. Is that correct?"
He couldn't respond. He had nothing to say. There was a telling photograph taken during the deposition that must have been snapped right at that point. In it, I am wearing a big, excited smile. Friedman is stormy-faced and sweating. In the background, the defense lawyer's hand is raised in an obvious objection.
My team and I dug up a wealth of information while researching Friedman. His trouble had started at an early age, when he was on vacation in Europe for a summer between years of college. We located correspondence between him and the dean of Amherst, in which Friedman requested to know the dimensions of his dorm room so he could buy the appropriately sized Persian rug.
We knew a tidbit like that probably wouldn't make it into the trial, but it was still a funny fact. I wanted to know if Johnson & Johnson knew what Friedman had done in the past. Their representative said they knew. They knew! And they still made him director.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," they told me.
To me, that makes them just as corrupt and dirty as he was. They ignored the facts and the 60 percent correction on estrogen levels in their information, and they hid behind him to protect themselves. It was absurd, because this is Johnson & Johnson, the baby company, the nurse company. They actually hired an already corrupt guy to back a dangerous product.
In my mind, Friedman remains the poster boy for pharmaceutical companies that get themselves in trouble. We need good pharmaceutical companies, honest ones, and we need them working on products that are going to help people. Friedman was eventually repositioned, though he remains at Johnson & Johnson. His professional profile boasts that he is the Head of the Global Labeling Center of Excellence at Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals. I guess I would rather have him handling labels than women's health.
Trial by Fire: One Man's Battle to End Corporate Greed and Save Lives by attorney Mike Burg is available on Amazon.com.