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Judge rejects firm's bid to delay second Vioxx trial

TRENTON, N.J. -- Merck & Co.'s request to postpone the next trial over its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx was turned down yesterday by a New Jersey judge.

Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee, who is overseeing nearly 2,500 Vioxx product liability cases that have been filed in New Jersey, also rejected several other Merck motions related to the trial.

Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck, in a motion filed last week, had urged Higbee to postpone the start of the trial for 45 days, citing a ''media blitz" after the first trial. That ended Aug. 19 with an Angleton, Texas, jury awarding $253.4 million to the widow of Bob Ernst. He died in 2001 after taking Vioxx for eight months. The award is expected to be reduced to about $26 million, due to Texas caps on punitive damages.

Set to start Sept. 12 in Atlantic City, the second trial involves a 60-year-old postal worker from Boise, Idaho. Four years ago, Frederick ''Mike" Humeston suffered a heart attack, but survived, shortly after he began taking Vioxx for pain from old war wounds.

Higbee ruled yesterday that the trial will start with jury selection on Sept. 12, as scheduled, said Higbee's court clerk, Chris Morgan.

Humeston's attorney, Chris Seeger of Manhattan, said the judge also ruled against Merck on motions to exclude some Merck marketing and promotional materials about Vioxx and evidence about Merck's efforts to sway or discredit doctors who raise concerns about the safety of Vioxx.

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