Suspended Pike County judge has key role in Kentucky's lawsuit over OxyContin

Pike Circuit Judge Steven Combs, who was temporarily suspended Tuesday while misconduct charges against him are pending, has been the presiding judge in the state's $1 billion lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.

Kentucky sued Purdue Pharma, claiming the pharmaceutical company lied about its prescription painkiller OxyContin, leading doctors to overprescribe the drug, which resulted in a surge of addiction and increased medical costs statewide.

Before a trial can begin, "admissions, " or statements presented by the plaintiff, are filed, and the defendant may admit or deny them.

Combs ruled in 2013 that Purdue Pharma missed the deadline to respond to the state's admissions, making the statements valid in court.

The ruling could make it much easier for Kentucky to win its case and potentially collect more than $1 billion from Purdue Pharma.

The company is seeking to get Combs' decision overruled in the Kentucky Supreme Court. Both sides are waiting on the court's ruling before any other proceedings can start.

"The commonwealth is going to be able to use (these admissions) as a sword and as a shield to keep us from finding the information that we need to develop a full record," Purdue Pharma attorney Daniel Danford said in March.

Danford declined to comment on how Combs' suspension might affect the case.

The Kentucky attorney general's office and Purdue Pharma declined to comment.

It is unknown whether Combs' suspension will affect the supreme court's ruling or future court proceedings.

Combs was temporarily suspended with pay until the 10 charges against him are resolved. The charges include misconduct in office and inappropriate communications, among them calling Pikeville officials "fishface," "cokehead" and other derogatory names.

Potential sanctions range from a public reprimand to an unpaid suspension or removal from office.

Combs' attorney, Kent Wicker, said he didn't think Combs' suspension would have any bearing on the Purdue Pharma lawsuit.