Another example of the workings of the vaccine court

4 Aug

This doesn’t involve the autism cases. Instead it is about the Hepatitis B omnibus proceeding which is also ongoing. It does involve some familiar names: Clifford Shoemaker (attorney), Dr. Mark Geier and his son David Geier. It does give us some insight into the billing practices of these gentlemen.

As background I’ll note that Clifford Shoemaker subpoenaed blogger Kathleen Seidel of Neurodiversity.com. He ended up being sanctioned for that action.

Dr. Mark Geier has been a frequent consultant to Mr. Shoemaker’s cases in the vaccine court. Ms. Seidel has covered some of the cases before where Dr. Geier has participated.

David Geier has so far not been compensated as a consultant to the Court.

In a recent case, Quinton O. Riggins, Jr. v. Secretary of HHS, we can see some of the decision processes involved in awarding fees to attorneys and consultants in the Court.

The application was for a total of $221,211.34:

On April 1, 2008, petitioner’s counsel, Clifford Shoemaker, filed an Application for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (hereinafter referenced to as Petitioner’s Application), requesting a total of $221,211.34 in attorneys’ fees and costs. Counsel requests $16,592.16 in fees and costs related to the above-captioned matter, and $204,619.18 in fees and costs related to the “general hepatitis B proceedings.”

Of this, about $96k was paid:

Accordingly, petitioner is entitled to the following award for fees and costs for efforts in the Riggins case and for efforts on the hepatitis B cases in general: $95,801.72 for attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by check payable to petitioner and petitioner’s counsel; and $528.25 in petitioner’s costs to be paid by check payable to petitioner. The Clerk shall enter judgment accordingly.

The analysis of the application is lengthy. I will quote some sections below.

In regards to Mark and David Geier:

“Petitioner’s counsel requests $110,386.73 in costs related to S&A’s general hepatitis B work, of which counsel has earmarked $97,443.43 as costs (for fees and expenses) owed to Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David Geier.”

In the end, Dr. Mark Geier was paid $10,000 and David Geier was not compensated.

In denying payment to David Geier, who holds a bachelors degree, the Special Master noted:

“In summary, the undersigned finds the costs for David Geier’s efforts to be obviously unreasonable as Mr. Geier is not qualified to address the medical issues involved in the Program and his work was duplicative of the efforts by Dr. Geier. Thus, the undersigned denies the request for costs for David Geier in its entirety.”

In regards to Dr. Mark Geier:

However, Dr. Geier’s qualifications as an expert, testimony in the Program, and credentials, have been subject of considerable criticism over the years by the court. The undersigned questioned his expertise as far back as 1991. Daly v.Sec’y of HHS, No. 90-590V, 1991 WL 154573, at *7 (Cl. Ct. Spec. Mstr. July 26, 1991) (“[T]his court is inclined to not allow Dr. Geier to testify before it on issues of Table injuries. Dr. Geier clearly lacks the expertise to evaluate the symptomatology of the Table injuries and render an opinion thereon.”). More recently, in a published Order, my colleague, Special Master Vowell, addressed this criticism, as well as her concerns regarding petitioners utilizing medical articles authored by Dr. Geier, as follows:

I found that the articles authored by Dr. Geier unpersuasive and not scientifically sound, based on my prior reading of the articles and critiques of them. I am also aware that Dr. Geier is trained as a geneticist and obstetrician, not an immunologist, epidemiologist, or rheumatologist, and that my fellow special masters and several other judges have opined unfavorably on his qualifications and testimony as an expert.

It appears that since the Court has found that Dr. Geier is not qualified as an “expert”, he was retained as a “consultant”. However, he appears to have acted in ways overstepping the bounds of “counsultant”.

In the instant matter, the undersigned finds it was reasonable (and appropriate) for counsel to consult with Dr. Geier in a limited manner regarding the hepatitis B claims. Those efforts would entail Dr. Geier performing an initial review of the counsel’s hepatitis B claims and some initial research regarding vaccine injuries resulting from hepatitis B vaccine. Dr. Geier would then educate counsel as to the nature of the issues and the types of experts required. However, once Dr. Geier performed an initial review of these claims for counsel, and once counsel began reaching out to doctors who would ultimately serve as experts in S&A’s hepatitis B claims, it was no longer reasonable for Dr. Geier to be billing hours and incurring costs in S&A’s general hepatitis B efforts. Dr. Geier at this point was moving well beyond the role of a consultant.14 Thus by the beginning of 2002, when Mr. Shoemaker began to meet with experts15 to assist in the prosecution of the hepatitis B claims, Dr. Geier’s work on behalf of S&A’s general hepatitis B efforts was no longer needed and should have concluded.

Because of this, Dr. Geier was compensated at a reasonable amount for his consulting activities.

The undersigned notes an award of $10,000.00 represents an almost 90% reduction of the invoice submitted by the Geiers in this matter. The award of $10,000.00 is reasonable for Dr. Geier’s consultant efforts, and thus should not be viewed as a “reduction,” but viewed as reasonable compensation for Dr. Geier’s role as a consultant. The time not compensated is time largely spent by Dr. Geier duplicating the efforts of the experts, duplicating his own work, or performing work as an expert (work he is not qualified to perform). Stated another way, once experts were identified and became involved, Dr. Geier’s role as a consultant ended.

Mr. Shoemaker requested $221,211.34 in fees and costs:

On April 1, 2008, petitioner’s counsel, Clifford Shoemaker, filed an Application for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (hereinafter referenced to as Petitioner’s Application), requesting a total of $221,211.34 in attorneys’ fees and costs. Counsel requests $16,592.16 in fees and costs related to the above-captioned matter, and $204,619.18 in fees and costs related to the “general hepatitis B proceedings.”

The court found that $64,254.45 was reasonable.

Here is an example of a charge that was denied:

The 5/30/2006 entry bills 0.5 hours to “[r]eview excel chart and update information; transfer information needed for SC to laptop,” P. App at 18. The “transfer information needed for SC to laptop” entry was explained by counsel asconstituting mere seconds and thus not administrative overhead. P Resp at 2, fn 1. However, counsel failed to address the remainder of the entry and identify what excel chart he was updating and how that activity was relevant to Mr. Riggins’ case. However, far more egregiously, counsel has billed for this exact same activity on precisely the same date twice before in two separate hepatitis B cases.

Trips to France and Italy were also excluded:

Another extreme example of counsel’s error in billing judgment is the request by counsel for fees and costs billed by Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier for trips to France and Italy in the summer of 2005 and winter of 2006 respectively, and for Mr. Shoemaker to travel to France with the Geiers in the summer of 2005. These requests represent a complete abdication of billing judgment.

Dr. Geier and Mr. Geier together billed a total of over $20,000.00, P App at 62-63, to travel along with Mr. Shoemaker to France and meet with various doctors and lawyers to discuss adverse events following the hepatitis B vaccination. Dr. Geier, in his affidavit, and counsel in Petitioner’s Sur-Reply, allege it was necessary to travel to France to discuss the doctors’ and lawyers’ experiences and research relating to adverse reactions stemming from the hepatitis B vaccination, and that this information could only be obtained in “face-to-face” discussions. In addition, Dr. Geier and Mr. Geier together billed $23,690.00 to travel to Italy to attend the 5th International Conference of Autoimmunity. Petitioner argues in Petitioner’s Response that the Geiers were invited to present their research at the conference by Dr. Shoenfeld, a leading expert in autoimmunity, and that at the conference they were able to secure Dr. Shoenfeld’s services as an expert in counsel’s cases. Petitioner further alleges the Geiers were able to discuss autoimmune disorders with experts at the conference and further “expedite the prosecution of various hepatitis b cases.” P Resp at 12.

and

Additionally, the Geiers provided absolutely no supporting documentation, such as receipts, to evidence the $9,399.68, see P App at 60, they allege they incurred in costs for airline tickets, other transportation costs, parking, hotel, “daily expenses,” food, and conference fees during these trips. P App at 61-62. By itself, this failure justifies not awarding these costs.

Many expenses for Mr. Shoemaker were questioned by the Special Master. Some based on the lack of adequate justification for the costs:

Petitioner’s counsel has failed to provide adequate information for the undersigned to determined exactly what the costs represent and whether or not the costs were reasonably incurred. No receipts are provided for any of these expenses. For example, for what did counsel pay costs to Federal Express? Who traveled to Boston and stayed at the Ritz Carlton? What expert was met with in Boston? Who traveled to Florida? And what attorney was met with in Florida?

Other expenses were considered to be “overhead”

Respondent objects to five hours of time billed by counsel for “‘meeting with consultants about scanning issues’” on April 19, 2000; one hour of time billed by counsel for “‘review[ing] computer breakdowns and update computer field’” on October 8, 2002; and three hours of time billed by counsel for a “consultation with Legal Nurses Association to discuss reviewing cases and preparing chronologies” on September 19 and 21, 2001. R Opp at 17; see also R Reply at 7. Respondent objects to these billings on the basis that the billings are administrative in nature, “more properly categorized as overhead” and would benefit “all petitioners represented by [counsel’s] firm.” Id. The undersigned agrees.

The entire decision is 37 pages long, detailing the requests for reimbursments, fees and costs.

7 Responses to “Another example of the workings of the vaccine court”

  1. Sullivan August 4, 2010 at 02:09 #

    In another recent case:

    There appears to be little dispute that a petitioner should not retain Dr. Geier now. His qualifications and his opinions have been questioned so often that a reasonable petitioner would be better served by seeking the opinion of someone else. Mr. Moxley recognizes this distinction. He states that Dr. Geier incurred expenditures “before it was indicated that Dr. Geier’s opinion would carry little weight” in the litigation.

  2. Science Mom August 4, 2010 at 17:17 #

    It sounds as though the Geiers and Shoemaker are trying to use the NVICP fund as their own personal piggy bank. Charming.

  3. stanley seigler August 31, 2010 at 00:55 #

    [Science Mom say] It sounds as though the Geiers and Shoemaker are trying to use the NVICP fund as their own personal piggy bank. Charming

    so many cottage industries…lawyers, consultants, promotional scientists, lobbyists, etal, fill their piggy banks…thanks to the pain of those on the spectrum…charming indeed.

    well perhaps not cottage industries as they mass produce bs…

    stanley seigler

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Another example of the workings of the vaccine court « Left Brain/Right Brain -- Topsy.com - August 4, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev, Squillo. Squillo said: Another example of the workings of the #vaccine court-expert compensation http://bit.ly/acEwFN […]

  2. blog-thing : MMR Settlement - too little, too late - August 31, 2010

    […] granted an interim award of $1,452,806.11. Recent cases suggest that extravagant claims are now subject to closer scrutiny especially when they involve expert witnesses who are none too […]

  3. The Geiers’ Second Home « Left Brain Right Brain - February 2, 2013

    […] If you work out where they live, please don’t post it here. It is publicly availabe, but it is not relevant to this discussion. What is releavant is this: there’s a lot of money in alternative medicine and promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. Mark Geier has 20 years experience working with, and being critcized by, the vaccine court, including for double charging and for charging for costs well outside their roles (such as trips to Europe) […]

  4. Looking back at two decades of Geier | Left Brain Right Brain - October 20, 2013

    […] The Geiers requested over $100,000 for work on the Hepatitis B Omnibus, including multiple trips to Europe. (almost $24k for one trip alone). Much of the request had no documentation (bills, airline tickets, etc.) […]

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