J&J tried to convince a federal judge to block publication of the Reuters article

Feb 4 (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson has tried to get a U.S. judge to stop Reuters from publishing an article based on what it said were confidential company documents about the giant’s legal maneuverings Health to fight lawsuits claiming its baby powder caused cancer.

“The First Amendment is not a license to knowingly violate the law,” the company said in a filing Thursday night in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey, where a unit of J&J had filed for bankruptcy protection while defending the lawsuits against Baby Powder. The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects the freedom of the press.

On Friday, Reuters reported that J&J secretly launched “Project Plato” last year to shift responsibility for around 38,000 ongoing Baby Powder talc lawsuits to a newly created subsidiary, which was then to file for bankruptcy. By doing so, J&J could limit its financial exposure to lawsuits.

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After the article was published, Reuters asked US bankruptcy judge Michael Kaplan to dismiss J&J’s petition, saying it was moot. Less than an hour after Reuters submitted its letter, J&J said in a filing that it was withdrawing a request for an immediate hearing on the matter but was “not ready to accept” that its request for the documents was without object.

J&J said in its filing after the story was published that it intended to continue discussions with Reuters and said it was “reassured that release of confidential material is no longer imminent.”

J&J’s request to block publication was “one of the most extraordinary remedies a litigant can seek under the law,” lawyers for Reuters, a unit of Thomson Reuters, said in a court filing on Friday. Lawyers for the news agency called J&J’s request a “prior restriction on speaking on a matter of public interest.”

J&J said Reuters had obtained documents protected from public disclosure by an order from Kaplan. The company demanded that Reuters return the documents and refrain from publishing the information gleaned from the documents.

“This is a complex matter that should be heard in court — in a forum where both sides present their cases in an appropriate setting — and not debated by the media,” a J&J spokesperson said Friday. in a press release.

Reuters denied having any confidential information, saying in court papers that one of the documents was released in January and the second was not in Reuters’ possession.

J&J’s LTL unit (JNJ.N) filed for bankruptcy in October to resolve claims that J&J’s talc products contain asbestos and cause mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. Read more

J&J maintains that its consumer talc products are safe and have been confirmed to contain no asbestos.

The company said it placed LTL into bankruptcy to settle those claims rather than pursuing them individually. He said resolving these claims through Chapter 11 is a legitimate use of the restructuring process.

The talc plaintiffs’ committees argue that J&J should not be allowed to use bankruptcy to settle the talc litigation and that in doing so it robs the plaintiffs of their day in court.

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Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Maria Chutchian in New York; edited by Amy Stevens and Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Jacob L. Thornton