Supervisor Angius wants Mohave County to join national opioid litigation
KINGMAN – Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius has changed her mind on joining the nationwide lawsuit related to the opioid epidemic that has gripped the nation, and Mohave County in particular.
She wasn’t sold when a California lawyer came to Kingman a few months ago and asked the board to represent the county in the opioid litigation that’s being handled by an Ohio judge.
“I don’t like class-action lawsuits, but here’s the deal: They’re happening. With or without us, they’re going to happen,” Angius said Monday before the Board of Supervisors took no action on signing a cooperative purchase agreement with Maricopa County for formal representation in the lawsuit. Several other Arizona counties have signed the agreement, as well as the City of Kingman.
“In 10 years, if and when there is a settlement and there is money to be had, I don’t want anybody to look back and say, ‘Why wouldn’t the supervisors in 2018 get on board with this class-action lawsuit?’ Because it costs us no money. It’s basically no skin off our back.”
There’s a lot of “misinformation” about the opioid epidemic, Angius said, and she has friends and family who’ve suffered the “unintended consequences” of rushed legislation restricting doctors and pharmacies from dispensing opioid-related pain medication.
But like it or not, Mohave County is “ground zero” for opioid abuse, and that’s why the law firms are interested in representing the county, she added.
All supervisors have heard from constituents about not being able to get their pain medication, especially veterans and the elderly, Angius said. It’s also affected doctors, hospitals and pharmacies.
“This is just something I think that as your representative of people I feel I have to do in case down the line there is money that can be used for the health, safety and welfare of citizens of Mohave County,” she said.
Supervisor Buster Johnson, who was against joining the lawsuit months ago, wanted to know what the county would do with money collected from the settlement.
There’s no answer to that since nobody knows how much they will receive, County Attorney Ryan Esplin said. It’s not a class-action lawsuit, but a multijurisdictional case involving more than 1,100 individual lawsuits, the attorney explained. Additional lawsuits could follow. The trial is scheduled for September 2019.
Also, the fees are complicated, with various percentages to be paid to law firms depending on the amount of the settlement. Johnson said the division of monies received is getting “extremely high” in percentages, with law firms getting all of their expenses paid off the top.
Esplin explained that law firms will take expenses for litigation, discovery and trial. They will receive 15 percent of damages claimed up to $500 million, and an additional 10 percent over $500 million.
Angius wanted to know if there was any “downside” from joining.
“I think this is purely a political question, it really is,” Esplin said. “From a legal standpoint, can we do it? Yes. It’s not going to cost us any money. It is a classic contingent fee basis. But in terms of whether to accept it or not, that’s a purely political question for this board to decide, whether that’s something you feel is proper for the people or not.”
Whatever money is received in the settlement should go toward public health and addiction programs, Angius said, but that would have to be decided by future boards.