Gray, Ritter & Graham attorney Don Downing represented some 2,000 rice producers in Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi who suffered losses as a result of contamination of the U.S. rice and rice seed supplies and their land and equipment by Bayer CropScience’s experimental, unapproved genetically engineered rice. Over 10,000 rice producers and dozens of businesses sued Bayer in this litigation. Upon our motion, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on December 18, 2006, ordered that all cases be transferred to the Eastern District of Missouri and coordinated by the Honorable Catherine D. Perry. On April 18, 2007, Judge Perry appointed Downing as one of two co-lead counsel to direct and manage pretrial proceedings on behalf of all plaintiffs, including the briefing and argument of motions and the conduct of all types of discovery. A six-firm Executive Committee also was appointed to act under the direction of Co-Lead Counsel, and Co-Lead Counsel were also authorized to utilize other firms to also work on the litigation (collectively the “Leadership Group.”) The Leadership Group, primarily under Downing’s direction, prepared for and conducted over a hundred depositions; requested, reviewed and coded millions of documents produced during discovery; retained numerous consulting and testifying experts; appeared regularly before the Court at hearings and conferences; prepared and opposed numerous discovery, dispositive, Daubert and other motions; and prepared the first 34 Initial Trial Pool plaintiffs’ case for trial. Included within the Initial Trial Pool cases were five “bellwether” cases. Each “bellwether” case involved one or two farmers for each of the five long-grain rice producing states. Three “bellwether” trials went to verdict. Each lasted approximately four weeks and resulted in substantial verdicts for the plaintiff rice producers. Downing was lead trial counsel in those cases, and in a fourth “bellwether” trial that settled after the first week of trial. Judge Catherine Perry, the Judge overseeing the MDL, commented that the evidence presented in the first two “bellwether” trials was “well-organized and well-presented, and two juries found it persuasive.” After the “bellwether” trials, Downing led a negotiation that resulted in a $750 million global settlement of rice producer claims.
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