The first slated trial of a wrongful death suit against Merck & Co. (MRK) over its painkiller Vioxx (search), which was set to take place in Alabama, has been postponed at the urging of a federal judge.

Paul Sizemore, a plaintiff's lawyer in the Alabama case that was set for May 23, said U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon asked his firm to postpone the case so it wouldn't interfere with federal litigation. Sizemore's firm and Merck & Co. complied.

Fallon is overseeing all the federal Vioxx cases. Although the Alabama trial is a state case, Sizemore said his firm complied out of respect for the judge. Moreover, his firm is represented on a federal plaintiff steering committee so he said it would have been awkward to refuse his request.

"We have mixed feelings," said Sizemore, a partner at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Alabama. "We want to push our case forward. We think we have a meritorious case."

However, Sizemore added, "We need to work with the judge."

Sizemore said it was unclear when the trial might go forward but that the Circuit Judge John Rochester might set a new date when he rules on a motion by Merck to dismiss the case. Rochester said he would rule on Merck's motion by the end of the week.

The second state case is slated to begin in late May in Texas and it was unclear if that case would also be postponed.