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September 1, 1994

Judge calls meeting to try to settle dispute between Fisher, University

Judge calls meeting to try to settle dispute between Fisher, University

Bernard Fisher, ousted chairperson of a lead- ing breast cancer study based at Pitt, and his lawyers will meet Sept. 13 with University administrators and lawyers in an effort to resolve their dispute over leadership of the study.

The private meeting will be held Downtown in the chambers of U.S. District Court Judge Donald E. Ziegler.

Ziegler called the meeting in the hope of settling at least some of the issues raised in a lawsuit that Fisher filed in U.S. District Court in July.

Fisher asked the court to order the University to reinstate him as chairperson and principal investigator of the Pitt-based National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), the nation's oldest and largest breast cancer project. Fisher also is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, among other requests.

Fisher's removal as chairperson stemmed from reports, first made public in mid-March, that a Montreal researcher submitted fraudulent data to several NSABP studies. Later, other cases of falsified data from other institutions turned up in NSABP studies.

Fisher contends that he and his staff discovered the falsified data and duly reported their findings in February 1991 to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which funds NSABP.

However, NCI criticized Fisher for a number of alleged administrative shortcomings, including falling behind in audits of NSABP researchers, and ordered Pitt to remove Fisher as chairperson or risk losing NSABP. On March 29, Fisher resigned — under heavy pressure from Pitt's administration, he says.

Ronald Herberman, director of the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, is serving as interim NSABP chairperson.

Fisher argues that Pitt and NCI had no legal power to remove him as chairperson of NSABP, which his lawsuit describes as a private organization with its own bylaws and executive committee.

On Aug. 1, 16 of NSABP's 23 executive committee members joined Fisher's lawsuit, also demanding his reinstatement. Pitt General Counsel Lewis Popper noted that the executive committee is a separate entity from NSABP itself and is a private, unincorporated organization.

Popper also said that Pitt can't reinstate Fisher without the NCI's approval, which the cancer institute is "highly unlikely" to give, he said.

According to attorney James B. Lieber, who is representing both Fisher and the NSABP, representatives of NSABP also probably will attend the Sept. 13 conference in Judge Ziegler's chambers.

If no agreement is reached at that meeting, Fisher and NSABP representatives are scheduled to present their evidence Sept. 20 during a hearing in U.S. District Court. Pitt's administration is scheduled to present its side of the case on Sept. 26.

Popper pointed out that the two hearings could be canceled if Pitt's administration files a motion to dismiss Fisher's case and Judge Ziegler grants that motion. The administration, which maintains that Fisher's lawsuit has no merit, faces a Sept. 12 deadline to formally respond to the lawsuit.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 1

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