Clark talks to Commission about opiate litigation

Anderson County Commission will be tasked in the following weeks with deciding on which opiate litigation lawsuit is the most appropriate and beneficial path to pursue on the county’s behalf.

Recently, at a County Commission Operations Committee meeting elected officials discussed and debated which of the two separate opiate litigations lawsuits presented to them will prove most effective in getting Anderson County more recovery money from the opiate epidemic.

Both Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank and Anderson County District Attorney General Dave Clark have proposed to the commission two options for litigation.

Frank reached out to Knoxville-based law firm Taylor and Knight and a Nashville-based law firm operated by Leif Cabraser earlier this year to look into a lawsuit the county could pursue to recover losses Anderson County Government has experienced in the wake of the opiate epidemic that is currently ravaging the county and the entire nation.

Clark apprised Commissioners on the County Commission’s Operations Committee earlier this month he joined his colleagues in district’s Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth in filing a joint lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt, and Endo Pharmaceuticals.

Commissioners learned in the Operations Committee meeting that if they decide to pursue both lawsuits against the same opioid manufacturers and distributors then the lawsuit Clark filed would be dropped.

“I don’t think it would pass legal muster to be pursuing two lawsuits against the same people,” explained Clark, who believes the county would run into some legal challenges if they tried to do both.

“I wanted to let you all know from the outset that I am not interested in pursuing an identical claim on behalf of Anderson County with another law firm. I’m not going to do that. We would end up getting in each other’s way. Whatever you choose to decide I am happy to press forward or happy to back off,” Clark said.

Dist. 6 Commissioner Steve Mead was one of the commissioners in favor of keeping both options open--at least for now.

“In the military you seldom say, ‘we’ve got these other armies available to work with but we don’t want them to get in our way. They’ve got 20,000 troops they want to bring to the battlefield. These companies [pharmaceuticals] are excruciatingly wealthy and powerful. They can hire armies of $500 to $600 dollar an hour attorneys for as long as it takes because they have deep pockets. They also have the power to politically and monetarily overwhelm a case with their money and resources. My concern is, are we turning away a resource that can help us win?”

Clark contended that the technology that is available today has significantly ‘leveled the playing field’ and that having both firms involved would add to the confusion and miscommunication that he said are common when more than one firm is involved in lawsuits against the same entity.

The county would end up in dealing with a lot of ‘piecemeal litigation’ if the two firms were both seeking damages for the county, he said.

“I will withdraw and dismiss the lawsuit if you choose to do that,” he said.

Frank countered that her interest in pursuing litigation with the Knoxville and Nashville based law firms was not political, and that she agreed with Mead’s belief that a two-pronged approach would prove more beneficial to the county than harmful.

“Let’s send the whole army,” said Frank, “because that is what it will take — an army to stand up against the massive army of attorneys the opioid manufacturers and distributors have hired to protect their interests.”

Jonathan Taylor, a partner at Taylor and Knight, spoke to commissioners on the committee and said it was common practice in the larger cases to have many firms hired on to help with the legal challenges involved in the litigation.

“You’re taking on the biggest, richest companies in the world who hire the best law firms, and yes, they do try to overwhelm. We’ve never had a problem with getting into each other’s way. We work together,” apprised Taylor. “We’re not here to recommend anything at all to the county other than that you hire us so we can advise you. That’s where we are procedurally. If hired, we’d just be giving advice to commission, so we wouldn’t at this point, early in the process, be recommending the county file a lawsuit.”

The proposal law firms Taylor and Knight and Cabraser were asking the county to approve was to allow their firms to advise the county in terms of its options and potential claims.

The attorneys stated they hoped Clark would not dismiss the case because their firms wanted to assist in litigation for the county, and added that they would stay out of Clark’s way.

“You want us to retain you as advisers, not to file a lawsuit, but to be our advisers and you’re not going to charge us anything to be our advisers?” asked Dist. 5 Commissioner Robert McKamey.

“Yes,” replied Taylor.

The focus of the litigation the law firms Cabraser and Taylor and Knight are interested in pursuing for the county would focus on initiating litigation against the major opioid manufacturers and distributors, not on local doctors, and pharmacies, Taylor explained.

“We believe the manufacturers and distributors, particularly the distributors, have had knowledge about the impact and the amount of prescriptions that have been flowing through this county and it is a shocking number,” continued Taylor.

He informed commission their two law firms would be taking a different angle to seeking damages in a lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers and distributors than the angle Clark is taking.

At the Operations Committee meeting, District 1 Commissioner Wandell made two separate motions, both of them in support of the two legal options that were presented to them. The first motion was to endorse Clark in his lawsuit filling, and the second was to continue discussion with the other attorneys to find out more about the possibilities if they took the other legal avenue available, and to have the law firms Taylor and Knight and Cabraser report back to the Operations Committee next month and continue their discussions with commission. At the County Commissioner’s meeting Monday, Oct. 16, Commission unanimously passed endorsing Clark’s decision to file a lawsuit with the other East Tennessee attorneys against the big pharmaceuticals.