by Steven Ertelt
March 2, 2006
Hayward, CA (LifeNews.com) — The trial in the two lawsuits filed against the California committee set up to distribute $3 billion in taxpayer funds for embryonic stem cell research and human cloning closed today. Both sides submit final arguments to the judge, who will decide the case without a jury.
Two taxpayers groups and a bioethics watchdog say the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has been violating state open meetings laws and lacks the proper state oversight required by law in order to dole out public funds.
They also say the 29-member board charged with distributing the grants is rife with conflicts of interest because leading biotech figures and university authorities sit on it.
According to the Associated Press, the trial will end late Thursday after attorneys debate what emails and other evidence should be allowed into the record.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw will decide the case in the non-jury trial.
The lawsuits point out that the committee charges a task force of 15 scientists and 7 patient advocates with coming up with suggestions for grants. Those grant deliberations are wrongly exempted in Proposition 71 from state oversight, the suits say.
By Zach Hall, a committee leader, told the judge Wednesday that such a process is typical and "essential" for some funding projects.
"This method is confidential because science is a competitive enterprise,” he told the judge, according to an AP report.
Earlier, 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.
The California Family Bioethics Council, a stem cell research watchdog, filed the other lawsuit, and its attorney, David Llewellyn, told the judge that 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 organized Proposition 71, told the judge those problems have been solved.
"They take an oath. They do not come to represent those institutions," he said, AP reported.
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.