Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center Undergoes Leadership Changes Amidst Surge in Mass Tort Programs

Philadelphia, PA – The First Judicial District’s Complex Litigation Center is undergoing leadership changes as multiple mass tort programs approach trial. Last week, Philadelphia Administrative Judge Lisette Shirdan-Harris promoted Judge Joshua Roberts to team leader of the center, replacing Judge Abbe Fletman who was appointed the supervising judge of the Commerce Court. These changes were prompted by the election of Judge Nina Wright Padilla as president judge, which created a vacancy on the Commerce Court bench she previously oversaw.

Judge Joshua Roberts joined the Philadelphia bench in 2019 after working at the firm Datz & Roberts. His experience includes civil litigation, election law, and probate. While serving on the bench, Roberts has primarily been involved in the motions and statutory appeals program with a focus on arbitration appeals. However, he also spent a year working on the complex litigation bench, which handles the city’s busy mass tort programs.

During his tenure, Roberts has presided over several high-profile cases. Notably, he reversed an ethics board finding that a political action committee improperly coordinated with former mayoral candidate Jeff Brown. Roberts also ruled that protest encampments at University City Townhomes should be dismantled and barred the enforcement of an executive order by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney that banned guns from the city’s recreation spaces.

Most recently, Judge Roberts was assigned to a partner dispute case involving the Philadelphia law firm Weir Greenblatt Pierce. Judge Roberts and Judge Shirdan-Harris did not respond to requests for comment.

Currently, the city has 10 mass tort programs pending, with some nearing the end of litigation due to recent settlements. Programs such as Risperdal and pelvic mesh litigation are almost completed, while others like Roundup, Zantac, Paraquat, and Glen Mills Schools are still in the early stages of litigation.

For example, Roundup is currently undergoing its first wave of bellwether trials, with the first one resulting in a $175 million win for the plaintiff. Meanwhile, Elmiron, Glen Mills, and Paraquat are in the process of selecting bellwether cases for trial. Despite these upcoming trials, the center has seen a significant decrease in case numbers in recent years. The decline is largely attributed to the conclusion of the Risperdal litigation, where in 2019 alone, Risperdal cases accounted for over 6,900 of the total inventory, compared to the current 4,216 cases pending as of May.

In summary, Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center is experiencing leadership changes as it prepares for multiple mass tort trials. Judge Joshua Roberts has been elevated to team leader, taking over from Judge Abbe Fletman. With several high-profile cases under his belt, Roberts brings a wealth of experience to the role. Additionally, the city’s mass tort programs are approaching trial, with some nearing settlement while others are still in the early stages of litigation. Despite a decline in overall case numbers, the center remains a crucial hub for handling complex litigation in Philadelphia.