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Beshear, Bevin Each Claim Stonewalling On Opioid Litigation

Beshear
J. Tyler Franklin
/
Andy Beshear

After months of back and forth between Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear on how to move forward with lawsuits against opioid distributors and manufacturers, both sides are accusing the other of stalling the process.

It began last summer when Beshear announced he would sue Endo Pharmaceuticals and McKesson Corporation for their role in the opioid epidemic. Typically the attorney general’s office hires outside law firms to do the leg work in such cases, and requests the approval of the administration to pay the firms if the suits are successful. Those requests were denied by a legislative committee and Bevin's administration upheld that decision. In January, the attorney general’s office filed for a temporary injunction to allow Beshear to move forward on hiring the outside attorneys.

But during the meeting, the attorney general's office received a letter from Bevin's general counsel stating that the governor will sue opioid distributors as well, proposing all litigation come from both the governor and attorney general.

 

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“Any future actions against opioid manufacturers or distributors will be filed on behalf of both the Governor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office,” Stephen Pitt, general counsel for the Commonwealth of Kentucky wrote. “The Governor’s Office and Attorney General’s Office will each exercise veto power over questions of legal strategy in all actions against opioid manufacturers."

Terry Sebastian, spokesman for the attorney’s general office, said the letter from the state was sent out at the same time attorneys from both sides were meeting to negotiate how to contract outside law firms for the opioid suits.

“This is another thinly veiled power grab, where the governor claims he wants cooperation, but demands veto power over the attorney general’s lawsuits. At this point, we are used to the governor’s antics,” Sebastian wrote in an email. “General Beshear is recognized as a national leader in this effort, and he will continue to do his job.”

Last week, Deputy Attorney General Michael Brown sent Pitt a letter detailing a proposed compromise. It included an agreement to seek any damages the Bevin administration suggested, and to meet regularly with the governor's office to discuss legal strategy. Brown asked in return that the governor not file competing litigation against opioid companies, not deny funds to hire outside law firms, and aid in gathering evidence.

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The letter also stated that Bevin’s administration had begun looking for information on McKesson Corporation and other companies manufacturing and dispensing of opioids to potentially build a lawsuit. The Attorney General’s office said it could provide that information.

“Which would prevent the taxpayers … from bearing any expense of such an assessment and foreclose the possibility of conflicting litigation,” Brown wrote in the letter.

Sebastian from the attorney general’s office said their attorneys are still reviewing the letter released on Monday.

This post has been updated to correctly state the way the attorney general's request was first denied — by a legislative committee — and the timing of the Bevin administration's letter.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.