A federal grand jury in Tampa, Fla., yesterday indicted a Northwestern University medical professor for allegedly lying during his testimony on behalf of A.H. Robins Co. in a lawsuit claiming that the company's Dalkon Shield intrauterine device had caused a Florida woman's sterility.
Dr. Louis G. Keith, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology who served as a key expert witness for the company, was charged with eight counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in the 1983 lawsuit by Linda Harre.
Harre claimed that the shield's tail string acted as a wick and drew bacteria into her uterus, causing the pelvic inflammatory disease that made her sterile. Keith testified that the Dalkon Shield did not contribute to Harre's illness, telling the jury that his statements were based on scientific studies completed under his direction with the assistance of a microbiologist.
Harre lost the case, but her lawyers later appealed, noting that Keith had testified in a later trial that he had not conducted tests on the Dalkon Shield nor supervised experiments.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1985 that Keith gave "false testimony" with "complicity of counsel" for Robins. Although the appeals court ordered that Harre be given a new trial, further action was stalled because Robins filed for bankruptcy later that year.
Yesterday's indictment named only Keith, not Robins or its lawyers. A separate grand jury in Kansas is investigating possible obstruction of justice and perjury by Robins.
The judge presiding over the trial had refused to permit Keith to testify because he had not personally conducted studies about the safety of the device.
The judge changed his ruling when Keith later asserted that he had supervised such studies, according to Sidney L. Matthew, Harre's lawyer.
The indictment alleged that Keith's false testimony obstructed justice because it enabled him to testify about the cause of Harre's injuries.
"It's unfortunate the Harres were unable to get a fair trial," Matthew said yesterday. He said Keith's testimony was "the crux" of Robin's defense.
"Dr. Keith did nothing wrong and he expects to be vindicated," his lawyer, Matthew Kennelly, said yesterday. John Taylor, vice president of public affairs for A.H. Robins, said that "it's the company's position that he testified truthfully in the trial and we think he will defend himself very strongly."