Politics & Government

Beshear hires Morgan & Morgan, three other law firms to go after pain pill industry

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks at the Fancy Farm picnic August 5, 2017, in Fancy Farm, Ky.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear speaks at the Fancy Farm picnic August 5, 2017, in Fancy Farm, Ky.

Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Friday that he will partner with four law firms to investigate and potentially sue drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers that contributed to Kentucky’s opioid abuse epidemic.

Of the four, three are from out of state and one is the Kentucky-based firm of former state Supreme Court Justice John Roach — Ransdell, Roach and Royse PLLC.

“We look forward to working with this experienced team of local and national attorneys who have the resources and knowledge to help this office secure funds,” Beshear said. “We need the best team to help us repair the harm caused by those who have played a role in Kentucky’s opioid crisis.”

Hours later, though, the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin said Beshear’s announcement was premature and questioned whether Beshear, a Democrat and frequent foe of the Republican governor, had followed the required process to approve the contract.

“There is no final contract,” said Glenn Waldrop, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue. “We are unsure why Attorney General Beshear prematurely issued a press release when the required approval process has not been followed. At the end of the day, there is a chance this contract may not be approved.”

Waldrop referred questions about what process Beshear might have failed to follow to Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.

An aide to Beshear dismissed Waldrop’s statement as political posturing.

“These lawsuits are good for all Kentuckians and shouldn’t be political,” said Deputy Attorney General Michael Brown. “The Attorney General’s office followed all procurement laws and made this announcement consistent with previous awards.”

So far, Beshear has only identified McKesson Corp., a California based pharmaceutical distributor, as a possible target, but in a June press conference, Beshear said he plans to file two to 10 lawsuits.

All three of the national law firms — Morgan & Morgan, Motley Rice and The Lanister Law Firm — have experience with consumer protection cases or direct experience in lawsuits against drug companies.

The Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan, which has multiple offices in Kentucky and advertises heavily in the state, represents cities and counties in West Virginia against McKesson and other drug wholesalers.

“There is not a more professional, committed and capable team than the one assembled for this matter,” said Morgan & Morgan founder John Morgan. “We will use our significant, successful experience and subject matter expertise to deliver a result that both makes the commonwealth whole and deters future violators from similar conduct moving forward. This is no longer David versus Goliath, but Goliath versus Goliath.”

State tax dollars will not pay for the cost of litigation. Instead, the law firms will get a portion of any verdict or settlement.

This won’t be Kentucky’s first lawsuit against drug companies over the opioid epidemic.

In 2007, former Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who later went on to work for Morgan & Morgan, filed a suit against Purdue Pharma, claiming deceptive marketing of OxyContin cost the state millions of dollars as it dealt with the resulting addiction crisis. The case was eventually settled by former Attorney General Jack Conway for $24 million in 2015, shortly before Beshear took office.

Recently, Republicans in Frankfort have criticized the settlement, saying it was too low and that Conway settled to prevent Beshear’s potential conflicts of interest with the drug company from coming to light. Beshear was previously an attorney with Stites and Harbison, which helped represent Purdue Pharma. Beshear has refused to identify the clients he represented as a private attorney, though he said he received no income from the Purdue Pharma settlement.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics