By Colton Lochhead / Las Vegas Review-Journal January 30, 2019 – 7:32 pm
CARSON CITY — The Nevada Attorney General’s office got the OK Wednesday to hire a law firm to sue opioid manufacturers.
The Interim Finance Committee approved the request for the Attorney General’s office enter hire outside counsel on a contingency fee, meaning the firm would be paid only if litigation is won, to battle the opioid epidemic in the state. The request passed along party lines, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans against.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, questioned the request and the contract structure.
“It’s really a perverse incentive to find justice for a claim that we don’t know whether or not even exists at this point,” Kieckhefer said. “I have an issue with contingency fee as an execution of justice on behalf of the government.”
Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt in May sued Purdue Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of the brand-name oxycodone prescription OxyContin, alleging that the company understated the risks associated with opioid use while exaggerating the benefits. The lawsuit further claimed that the pharmaceutical company trained salespeople to downplay addiction risk, funded research of field experts who led talks with health care professional on opioid prescribing, told patients that long-term use of their drugs would help them resume daily activities and distorted data on OxyContin’s 12-hour efficacy.
Ernest Figueroa, the Nevada Consumer Advocate and head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Attorney General’s office, told lawmakers that Gov. Steve Sisolak wrote in a declaration on Jan. 24 that “the office needs additional resources to combat the opioid crisis and initiated the process for contingency fee counsel.”
In the last 13 months, Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and Reno have hired the Eglet Prince law firm to sue opioid manufacturers.
As a Clark County commissioner in 2017, Sisolak voted to allow the district attorney to pursue a lawsuit against several opioid manufacturers in conjunction with Eglet Prince.
Attorney General Aaron Ford, who was elected in November, was a partner with Eglet Prince up until shortly before he took office this month.
When asked about the potential of the state hiring his former firm, Ford vowed to wall himself off from the process of choosing the outside counsel.
“AG Ford has opted to recuse himself from the Request for Proposal process regarding hiring outside counsel to represent Nevada in opioid litigation and will not participate in the selection of outside counsel,” Ford’s office said in a statement.