Cleveland — The saga continues in the case against University Hospitals fertility clinic: The judge handling the lawsuits is out. A new one is coming in, and that's all bringing lots of new questions.
Judge Stuart Friedman, who has been working on this case for the past eight months, is being forced into retirement because of age limits. He is 70 years old.
Despite the fact he is familiar with the case, he’s going to be replaced by someone who now has to get up to speed, which is going to take some time. That could hurt those who haven't yet filed cases because there is a statute of limitations
The case has been an emotional and legal morass from the jump.
It started with apologies, then denials from University Hospitals, after 4,000 eggs and embryos were lost in a storage tank at the Hospital back in March. 70 lawsuits were filed, and instead of hearing them separately, the judge lumped all the cases together, then issued a gag order for the families’ attorneys.
Now, all of the parties will have to wait for a new judge in a legal battle that will likely go on for years.
"With all the news coming out, we get furious, then we come back down again, and we're just sad all over again," Kate Plants said. She had stored her eggs and embryos at the hospital after being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.
So where do things now stand? Well, they're on hold, at least until the November elections, when the race between Ashley Kilbane and Bradley Hull IV decides who replaces Judge Friedman.
"The judge canceled the Pre-Trial. The judge entered an order staying the certification of a Class decision," Chris Patno, whose law firm McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman represents a number of clients who lost eggs and embryos in the fertility failure, told us. "Essentially, what you're seeing is the orders that existed with regard to moving the case forward have been removed. So, there's been no activity on the docket currently. "
And then there's the fact that this is an extremely complicated case, which could prove trying for a judge who's never sat on the bench before.
"If it is a newer judge, do they feel comfortable handling a case like this with their current docket and getting up to speed and learning?," asked Patno.
For families like the Petites, who wanted a sibling for their son Mason, this is yet another delay in their ability to move forward, and bring home what they consider to be their unborn child.
"When this is over, and said and done, and we can truly, truly begin our closure and grieving process, I think we would like to bring them.. (referring to the eggs and embryos),” Emily Petite said, her voice trailing off.
Her husband Matt finished her sentence saying: “We're not leaving them at the hospital."
There's another issue at play, as well: There are several hundred families who have not yet hired attorneys. WKYC has been told some are waiting to see how these cases play out. If the judge decides what the hospital did is medical malpractice, the families affected only have a year to file suit.
Right now, the clock is ticking.