LAS VEGAS (AP) – Nevada’s attorney general denied Wednesday that he had a hand in the hiring of his former law firm to represent the state in a high-profile and potentially lucrative lawsuit against the maker of the prescription opioid OxyContin.
Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford rejected a claim of cronyism from the Nevada Republican Party, and labeled a GOP call for him to undo the hiring of Eglet Prince as “absurd” and “inconsistent with the process and Nevada law.”
Ford denied having a conflict of interest and said he stayed out of the process. He said state Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa picked the Las Vegas firm from among nine competitive bidders to represent the state.
Two of the firm’s partners, Robert Eglet and Robert Adams, were in court Wednesday representing Clark County against multiple opioid manufacturers in a separate but similarly broad and complex lawsuit. They did not immediately respond to messages about the Republican criticism of Ford, who was a partner at the firm as recently as last year after serving as Democratic majority leader of the state Senate.
“He is now contracted with his former employer and they will be paid handsomely for their service,” the GOP said in a statement that quoted Will Sexauer, the party executive director. “This is what cronyism looks like and Ford should do the right thing and go with another firm.”
The Republicans also accused Ford of shaping a law during the 2017 Legislature that lets firms that contract with the state collect higher fees.
Ford’s office announced Tuesday that a seven-member evaluation panel selected Eglet Prince “to assist in the investigation and litigation of the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of opioids that have caused or contributed to Nevada’s opioid epidemic.”
“The opioid crisis has devastated our communities, and claimed the lives of too many Nevadans,” Figueroa, the consumer advocate, said in the announcement.
Nevada is among more than 40 U.S. states suing opioid manufacturers.
The state’s civil lawsuit, filed in May 2018 in state court in Las Vegas, accuses Purdue Pharma LP of using deceptive marketing to boost drug sales that fueled opioid overdose deaths.
Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, denied the claims and is defending itself.
The company did not admit wrongdoing when it paid $19.5 million in 2007 to settle lawsuits with 26 states and the District of Columbia that accused it of aggressively marketing OxyContin to doctors while downplaying the risk of addiction. Nevada was part of that agreement.
Eglet Prince is a prominent plaintiffs’ law firm, and Robert Eglet headed a legal team that won more than $500 million in judgments against pharmaceutical companies that provided an anesthetic to Las Vegas outpatient clinics at the center of a 2008 hepatitis C outbreak.
Juries held firms liable for damages to patients who became infected with incurable hepatitis C through injections by clinic staffers reusing multiple-use-size vials of the anesthetic propofol.
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