Boehringer Ingelheim, the European-based pharmaceutical giant, has been fined nearly $1 million by a U.S. judge for attempting to withhold and “failing to produce” documents related to a lawsuit against the company.  The lawsuits pertain to the company’s blockbuster blood thinning drug Pradaxa.

U.S. District Judge David Herndon handed down the decision after having to deal with constant troubles from Boehringer and their attorneys at the firm of Covington & Burling.

According to Herndon, who is overseeing the combined class of about 1,700 Pradaxa cases, Boehringer and Covington have been uncooperative from the start, doing their best to hinder discovery efforts by plaintiff’s attorneys.  In his ruling (CMO #50 – Regarding Second Sanctions Motion) Herndon lays out a myriad of excuses given by the two as to why they haven’t been cooperating, including trying to place the blame on third party vendors, their own IT departments, and the fact that the company did not believe the class would grow so large, and thus were unable to handle the workload.

One of the Covington & Burling attorneys specifically called out by Judge Herndon in his ruling is Paul Schmidt.  Schmidt was one of the lead architects of the pitiful defense given by Boehringer for their conduct in the case.

Covington & Burling is the law firm that gave us our current Attorney General, Eric Holder.  The firm specializes in representing big business in the face of consumer class action lawsuits.  Among their more noteworthy clients are Phillip Morris, Halliburton, and Blackwater.  All of these groups were fighting fraud claims, and Covington was more than willing to defend their illegal activities.

During Holder’s time at the firm, he personally handled cases representing pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street bankers.  If he were still with the firm, it is likely that he could have been the one castigated by Judge Herndon instead of Schmidt.

But the real issue here is the fact that both Boehringer and Covington were more than happy to withhold evidence of danger for a product (Pradaxa) that has already killed at least 500 people in the United States in just the last two years.  However, Boehringer has made more than $1 billion off the drug, and the lawsuits facing the company will only take a small dent out of that fortune.

Keep in mind, that’s $1 billion in profits on a single drug – a drug that isn’t even as effective or safe as alternatives that have been on the market for decades.  According to Ned McWilliams, a plaintiff’s attorney handling Pradaxa cases, “When you carefully look at the clinical trial data that served as the basis for approval for Pradaxa, Pradaxa is no more effective than Coumadin when compared to well-controlled Coumadin patients – those who were able to maintain “therapeutic range.” Yet Pradaxa is being marketed as “35% better than warfarin” with only car-commercial-fine-print “notifying” eagle eyed doctors and patients of this important limitation.”

The fine levied by Judge Herndon is unlikely to stop the conduct of corporate defense firms like Covington and massive pharmaceutical giants like Boehringer, but it is a reminder that fraud and deception will eventually catch up to even the wealthiest criminals.

For more info on Pradaxa, as well as the fraud and deception that has helped catapult its sales, watch the following video from Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV:

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer Magazine, a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com, and a regular contributor to Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He also hosts the weekly DeSmogCAST and serves as co-host for Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced