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Lawyers for University Hospitals fertility clinic plaintiffs meet for the first time in court

By JAMES F. McCARTY • Mar 27, 2018 at 3:26 PM

CLEVELAND — Nearly 30 lawyers and judges squeezed into a crowded courtroom Monday to address 18 lawsuits filed against University Hospitals' fertility clinic after an incident in a freezer March 3 and 4 impacted the viability of their stored eggs and embryos.

The legal process promises to be complicated due to the volume of cases and disputes over whether to consolidate the cases, whether a class action is warranted and which judge should preside over the cases.

For now, Judge Stuart Friedman is in charge. But he was planning to retire at the end of the year from the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. He has already volunteered to remain into 2019 and retain jurisdiction over the cases if Ohio's chief justice, Maureen O'Connor, agrees to allow him to do so.

Friedman closed the hearing to the media in an effort to avoid stifling a more open discussion and spoke privately with the lawyers for about a half-hour. He made no rulings.

"This obviously is a matter of great public interest," Friedman said. "It already has attracted the national media and any decision will attract more media attention."

Friedman said he intends to rule on the various motions to consolidate the cases before deciding whether to remain as the lead judge or to defer to a different judge.

After that, the next step would be to decide whether the cases deserve class action status, "an issue that probably will be hotly contested," Friedman said. "I intend to make a ruling expeditiously if I am called upon to do so."

In the meantime, Judge Dick Ambrose has given UH doctors and employees permission to communicate with patients for medical consultation and to offer in vitro fertilization-related medical care at no cost.

UH also has offered to refund storage fees and to waive storage fees in the future for up to seven years.


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