By a 2-1 vote Thursday (March 14), the Delaware County Board of Commissioners approved a joint application authorizing the appointment of legal counsel in a multi-district litigation suit that is pending against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opiates.
Commissioners entered into the suit in February 2018 in hopes of recouping monetary losses to the county caused by the opioid epidemic.
The law firm of Taft, Stettinius and Hollister LLP, Delaware, was approved last year to represent, prosecute, and defend on the behalf of the county.
However, according to Steve Cuckler, a partner at Taft, Stettinius and Hollister, LLP, the firm recently discovered a conflict causing it to withdraw from the case.
“It was best for the county that the firm back out,” he said Thursday after the commissioners session.
Commissioners Barb Lewis, board president, and Gary Merrell voted in favor of the reappointment of legal counsel in the opioid litigation. Commissioner Jeff Benton voted no.
Dawn Huston, deputy administrator, said a consortium of law firms representing other plaintiffs had agreed to represent the board.
“I think it’s important to point out that we would pay the firms 30 percent of the total recovery,” she said. “If there is no finding at trial, there would be no reimbursement.”
Chris Betts, acting county prosecutor, recommended Anthony J. Majestro, of Powell & Majestro PLLC, as lead counsel in the continuing litigation.
“…counsel is needed due to the scope and complexity of the litigation and the inability of the prosecutor to devote existing resources…,” states the commissioners’ journal.
Before casting his vote, Benton said he has an “issue” with the litigation. He said when it came up a year ago, he was concerned that the “litigation was pursuing the wrong defendants.”
“The real culprits in this epidemic and the fallout from it are the prescribers,” he said. “The doctors, the pill mills, and the clinics that prescribe caused the problem.”
Benton said legal advice was to target the distributors of opioids because doctors, pill mills and clinics didn’t have the resources leading to a substantial settlement for the county.
“I don’t think the distributors are the problem,” he said. “I think we’re suing the wrong people. The distributors have deep pockets. These are big international corporations. That’s what this litigation is pursuing now and not the real culprits.
“Besides the attorneys can’t give us any reasonable expectation of the dollars we’ll receive,” Benton added. “I can’t support continuing with this.”
Merrell agreed with Benton that the doctors should be included in the suit, “but that’s not what we were asked to consider.”
“Today, we are really talking about who is going to be representing us legally,” he said. “I’ll remain supportive.”
Lewis said it will be determined through the court process and “that’s where it should be determined.”
“I’m strongly in favor of continuing our membership in this multi-litigation,” she said.
The consolidated case is before Judge Dan Polster of the United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio, in Cleveland. There has been no outcome in the case to date.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.