16. A Failure of Leadership
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202 16 A Failure of Leadership Thanks in large part to the efforts of Senator Lynch, Elena Bostick, Joe Salgado, Ron Grayzel, and a fully involved activist community, the statuteextension bill made it through the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly, each of which approved it overwhelmingly. By the last week of June 1995, the final hurdle was for the bill, now known as the Blood Products Relief Act, to be signed into law by Governor Christine Todd Whitman. A year of quiet protests at legislative sessions, plus pleading, handshaking, media interviews, massive letter writing, and telephone calling, was about to pay off. Perhaps no one found this more satisfying and bittersweet than Dee Crooker, who was there for the final vote. On June 21, the day before passage of the legislation, her grandson Roger had died of AIDS complications. It was one month short of his twelfth birthday. But New Jersey Attorney General Deborah Poritz, later to become chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, announced that there was a problem. The bill, according to a written opinion from her office, was unconstitutional because it could not “revive causes of actions previously barred by a statute of limitations.” A spokeswoman said the governor would review the bill before deciding but the attorney general’s views would have “a great impact” on her decision. The hemophilia activists asked for a meeting with Governor Whitman. They pointed to testimony from Senator Robert J. Martin, a cosponsor of A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP 203 the state senate bill and a Seton Hall University law professor, who said he believed the law would withstand a legal challenge. But a report from the state assembly’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services had concluded that the bill might be unconstitutional as “special legislation” affecting only hemophiliacs with AIDS. It was one of the arguments being made by industry lobbyists. It was just at this time that Weinberg found himself in the uncomfortable position of being forced to call Crooker to see if she really wanted to fire him as her lawyer. Working with the activists’ Community Advisory Committee, Kozak and Mull had hired a Chicago lawyer named Jerome Torshen to file a motion to discharge Shrager as lead counsel and reconstitute the entire Steering Committee—with Mull and Kozak as lead counsel. The motion also alleged that Dee Crooker wanted Weinberg removed from the Steering Committee. Other class plaintiffs were said to have retained Torshen for the same purpose. When Weinberg called, Crooker said she had no idea that she was participating in an effort to have him removed, but that she had been persuaded by Ron Niederman to hire Torshen. Niederman, she said, was enraged because he believed Weinberg was party to Shrager’s deceptions. Crooker then authorized Weinberg to say that she was renouncing Torshen’s motion. Every lawyer on the Steering Committee, other than Mull and Kozak, also filed affidavits in opposition to the motion, and Judge Grady scheduled a June 29 hearing for testimony. Most of the Steering Committee attended; so did Kozak, Mull, and Torshen, along with some members of the community, including Jonathan Wadleigh and Ron Niederman. The judge said he would allow anyone with something to say to speak. It was a highly charged meeting, with several people stepping up to talk. Niederman, for his part, accused Weinberg of browbeating and intimidating Dee Crooker while she was in mourning over Roger. Weinberg denied the accusation. When his turn came, Kozak criticized the Steering Committee’s trial strategy, saying it would be better to focus on how industry had used blood tests not required by the FDA, tests that would have been unlikely to prevent HIV in the products. There was merit, for certain, in the evidence he described, but to Weinberg, it lacked proper 204 BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS perspective as part of a larger strategy. Judge Grady listened to everyone and advised them that his decision would be forthcoming. In early July, Judge Grady issued his opinion. He strongly rejected Torshen’s motion to dismiss and reconstitute the Steering Committee and suggested that he might remove Kozak and Mull. He endorsed the work of Shrager and the Steering Committee. A few days later, Judge Grady set the new pretrial schedule. All discovery , depositions, and identification of experts would be concluded by June 15, 1996. Thus, the dispute among the lawyers and their clients had cost their cause at least eight months and had...


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