Guest editorial: Many unanswered questions remain about Summit County’s opioid lawsuit
March 30, 2018
The article published in the Park Record concerning the recently filed lawsuit by Summit County against opioid manufacturers and distributors raises interesting questions. The article states that the three law firms representing the County are being paid on a contingency fee basis and will only be paid if the County is awarded money in the lawsuit. But it doesn't specify what percent of such an award will be paid to the law firms and what other legal expenses will be paid. Complicated technical cases of this sort take a lot of time and effort by all involved and often are subject to appeals that can seem to drag on indefinitely. The County will incur staffing costs for the time spent by County employees who provide evidence in this case and work with outside counsel in responding to interrogatories and preparing testimony. It is very important that the County have experienced in house lawyers to coordinate much of that work and to oversee the work of outside counsel. Such oversight cannot be safely or wisely delegated to a law firm. This is the County's case, and in house lawyers have to be ready to take control if things go off the rails or if one of the outside counsel firms begins making decisions that don't appear to be in the best interests of the County.
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson should make available to the public copies of the agreements with the three law firms, so we can better understand the role of each firm in this litigation and the financial arrangements that have been agreed to for the underlying case and for the likely appeals. She should disclose the rights that the County retains concerning decisions that will have to be made concerning this litigation. With three different law firms representing the County, there are going to be disagreements between the lawyers that will have to be resolved. We should know how those disputes will be handled. We also need to know what payment obligations the County has if it is not satisfied with the way the litigation is being managed and wants to replace counsel or if it wants to terminate the case. Win or lose, it is likely that the County will have to pay court costs, which could be substantial.
Who initiated the discussions about this lawsuit? Did one of the law firms first contact the County, or did a County official initiate contact? Before agreeing to hire the various law firms, what work was done to vet them and to compare them to other firms by seeking competitive bids? With respect to Napoli Shkolnik, what contacts were made with its clients who are pursuing other similar lawsuits? How satisfied are the other jurisdictions with the services being provided by Napoli Shkolnik, such as its responsiveness to client questions, its professionalism, and what in house staffing costs for the lawsuits have been incurred so far by those jurisdictions?
It would be good to know how much has been budgeted by the County Council to cover the expenses this litigation will cause. This matter will take a lot of the County Council members and Margaret Olson's managerial time for many years. I hope they are ready for these new responsibilities which could become all consuming.
This will not be an easy case to win. There are many causes of the opioid crisis, and it isn't easy to properly allocate responsibility. Many will see this case as a money grab to enrich the lawyers. If there is a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in this case, those costs will be passed on as higher prices of medicines to customers. Jurors will not want to have to pay more for their medicines so they can make the lawyers richer if they are wise enough to see that connection.