PRO: A.G. Lawsuits - Big business wants to block efforts to fight for consumers

April 11, 2014 

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CRAIG WHITE — KRT

By Jack Conway

I am proud that since I was sworn in as attorney general in 2008, this office has accomplished more with less.

Despite budget cuts of 42 percent, our office has managed to return approximately $260 million to the state treasury. This is an increase of 600 percent over previous administrations and a 400 percent return on every General Fund dollar invested in our office. Those are not Wall Street figures, as Tiger Joyce of the American Tort Reform Association suggests. They are factual evidence of good and efficient government.

Joyce also says I have refused to share details of how the state hires lawyers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a few large, complex cases with significant dollars for the commonwealth at stake, we have followed state guidelines and publicly advertised for and hired outside counsel.

In those few instances we have issued a request for proposals and awarded a contract pursuant to a transparent competitive bidding process. Any contingency fees are negotiated with rates far below those in the private sector. The contracts are subsequently reviewed by the legislature's contract review committee. The proposals, scoring and contracts are all open for public review and have been provided in response to several open records requests.

Some cursory research into the American Tort Reform Association reveals who is paying Joyce: The big pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, insurance companies and banks that my office has sought to hold accountable to taxpayers.

Many of the cases that upset Joyce are conducted pursuant to our authority to hold companies accountable for wasting our tax dollars by committing Medicaid fraud on the commonwealth. Our office recently was recognized for having the most aggressive unit in the country for combatting Medicaid fraud. Joyce believes his clients should avoid such scrutiny and accountability.

He further wrongfully alleges that I believe the attorney general can unilaterally decide how proceeds from lawsuits are spent.

He ignores that in two recent settlements with pharmaceutical companies, the court order settling the cases directed that the proceeds be used for public health and addiction-treatment. (Court orders directing how settlement dollars are spent are also common in national settlements.) The dollars were turned over to the governor, who allocated them pursuant to the court order and under his interim appropriation authority. This process for distributing the settlement proceeds was collaborative and fair.

Moreover, the pharmaceutical industry has made millions of dollars by lying to our government about the costs of its drugs and to consumers about their safety. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars concealing from doctors and patients the truly addictive nature of newer-generation prescription painkillers. I make no apologies for holding them accountable — or for insisting they help pay for treatment to combat the painkiller epidemic that they wrought.

Joyce says Senate Bills 188 and 223 are the answer to his problem. He claims SB 198 is needed to keep state attorneys in charge of all litigation, but our office already retains all control over litigation, and any contract we issue specifically says so.

SB 223 violates the constitutional separation of powers doctrine by infringing on the executive authority to bring lawsuits on behalf of the commonwealth. It requires the attorney general to bring the legislature into the process of negotiating settlements to lawsuits, which is unworkable and would violate the legally-required confidential nature of settlement negotiations.

The pharmaceutical companies, oil companies and banks have plenty of lawyers, but the people of Kentucky have one advocate — the attorney general. Joyce wants to make it impossible for the attorney general to file lawsuits holding his special-interest corporate members accountable.

The people of Kentucky know a huckster when they see one — and I trust they will see straight through this deceitful, Washington-style lobbying rhetoric.

Jack Conway is Kentucky's attorney general.

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