by Steven Ertelt
February 28, 2006
Hayward, CA (LifeNews.com) — A hearing before a judge on Monday in the lawsuits filed against the California committee charged with doling out $300 million annually for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning focused on possible violations and abuses of conflicts of interest laws.
Robert Taylor, who represents the People’s Advocate and National Tax Limitation Foundation taxpayer groups, told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw that the 29 members of the committee should be reporting directly to the state.
"The delegates who were selected from time-to-time were acting as free agents," he told the judge of those on the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
The California Family Bioethics Council, a stem cell research watchdog, filed the other lawsuit, and its attorney, David Llewellyn, told the judge that the agency is filled with conflicts of interest.
He said five members of the committee are University of California officials and they and their schools will likely benefit from millions in grants and research funds, according to an AP report.
"Proposition 71 is unconstitutional on its face,” Llewellyn said.
Real estate magnate Robert Klein who is the chairman of the committee told the judge those problems have been solved.
"They take an oath. They do not come to represent those institutions," he said, AP reported.
Deputy Attorney General Tamar Pachter also defended the committee saying the lawsuits have a "tortured interpretations of the constitution."
The trial is expected to last the rest of the week.
According to the lawsuits, the committee has violated a state constitutional mandate requiring state government oversight for any spending of taxpayer funds. The committee was authorized by Proposition 71 to spend money without any government approval.
"The act delegates the disbursal of huge sums of public money to the unfettered discretion of an institution whose governing board and working groups are unaccountable to the public," one of the lawsuits said.
The agency was expected to give $300 million annually for 10 years to scientists conducting embryonic stem cell research, which has yet to help a single patient, and human cloning. However, the lawsuits have been successful in holding up the grants because the bonds issued to raise the money could be worthless if the committee loses in court.
The delay in issuing grants has turned back plans by some universities in the state to recruit embryonic stem cell researchers from across the world.
In November, Sabraw ruled the lawsuits should not be dismissed even though they were holding up the committee from issuing the grants.
Regardless of the decision Sabraw issues in the case, both sides are expected to appeal, continuing the delay in issuing the grants.
Some observers expect the stem cell research committee to prevail in part because it has issued some reforms in response to criticisms that may make some of the issues moot.
Klein is hoping to secure more donations to keep the panel going through 2006 and has relied on a $3 million loan from the state and a $5 million donation from audio magnate Thomas Dolby.
Klein said the other day the committee has enough money to operate through the end of June and that he think he has $50 million in new donations coming in to keep it open the rest of 2006.