Big trials are big business in Fayette

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 10, 1999

FAYETTE — In Jefferson County, big trials are big business. This month a jury is hearing the case of five Mississippi plaintiffs who claim diet drugs sold by No. 5 drug maker American Home Products have caused heart and lung problems.

But despite the lawyers that have swarmed the courtroom with case files and computer equipment, Circuit Clerk Burnell Harris said this case is &uot;a drop in the bucket&uot; compared to other trials Fayette has hosted.

And in February, a trial involving tobacco and asbestos claims will be &uot;twice as big as the biggest trial we’ve had,&uot; Harris said.

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From lawyers eating Dudeburgers, the local specialty, for lunch, to attorneys and drug company representatives spread out in hotels and bed and breakfasts all the way to Natchez, the trial, like others, has become almost a tourist event.

&uot;It benefits the county economically,&uot; Harris said. &uot;They’re buying food here, they’re buying gas here.&uot;

Harris said he isn’t sure what attracts lawyers to Fayette for the big cases, but large verdicts in past asbestos and tobacco trials in Fayette and throughout Mississippi may be part of the equation.

Natchez Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown has already seen how money spent during trials in Fayette can trickle down to Adams&160;County.

Brown said the business of court cases is one of the reasons he and other city officials pushed for Congressional approval of a federal courthouse for downtown Natchez.

&uot;You see the number of witnesses, jurors, bailiffs, attorneys, clients,&uot; Brown said. &uot;It’s like having a good high-powered convention.&uot;

And lawyers &uot;tend to eat well, sleep well and party well,&uot; he added.

Many of the lawyers and drug company representatives in the Fayette trial are staying at hotels in Natchez, traveling the 30 minutes to Jefferson County each day.

For Harris and his staff, the big cases often mean more work.

During the current diet drug trial, three court reporters are rotating every 20 minutes to prepare daily transcripts for the lawyers involved in the case.

&uot;The work load for us doubles,&uot; he said.