City of Great Falls retains legal firms for potential opioid litigation
City Commissioners voted 4-1 this week to retain a legal team to represent the city in potential litigation against pharmaceutical companies.
The city has retained Simon, Greenstone, Panatier, Bartlett, P.C. and Montana litigation counsel team that includes Kovacich Snipes P.C. of Great Falls; Edwards, Frickle and Culver of Billings; Beck, Amsden and Stalpes PLCC of Bozeman; and Boone Karlberg P.C. of Missoula.
Stuart Purdy is one of the Simon Greenstone lawyers working on the opioid cases. He’s also a Great Falls native.
Ben Snipes of Kovacich Snipes spoke to commissioners again during their Feb. 6 meeting.
“We’ve got a problem here of epidemic proportions,” Snipes said.
Cascade County already voted to retain the legal team, which has already filed suit on behalf of Cascade and Gallatin counties.
Some other counties and cities have joined with the suit filed by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.
Commissioner Mary Moe said she had a number of concerns and questioned Snipes on whether other cities had retained the firms.
Snipes said the team isn’t pursuing a class action suit, but is bringing individual claims on behalf of local governments. So, far, Great Falls is the first city that the legal team is working with.
Under the retainer agreement, the city won’t incur any costs other than staff time. The legal teams would be compensated reimbursed through a contingency fee of 25 percent of any gross recovery from any potential settlement or award.
Snipes and City Attorney Sara Sexe said the city would be able to share costs with other municipalities when it comes to any settlements and reimbursements.
Mayor Bob Kelly said “we’re looking at doing this to make a statement.”
But he said he wants to revisit the concept of how to use the settlement funds should the city win any claims. Sexe said it would be up to the commission to determine how that money is used.
Commissioner Bill Bronson said he’s appalled by the number of television ads directed directly to consumers for a variety of pharmaceuticals. He said Congress could act on the rules related to that kind of marketing but have so far failed to do so.
“The last best line of defense that we have now is litigation,” he said. “I’m comfortable going forward with this.”
Moe, on the other hand, said, “I want to talk you out of it…Our job as a city commission is not to charge at windmills. Our job is not to right wrongs.”
She said that in looking at the staff comments in a memo to commissioners from the city manager, there weren’t any quantifiable damages.
“I think we’re very naive in thinking this is not going to really draw on staff time,” Moe said. “We don’t know what the damages are, the people that are closest to it don’t know what the damages are. We are remarkably shy of data on the basic question. Staff time is money.”
Sexe said Simon Greenstone has retained forensic experts to help with the data mining necessary to answer some of Moe’s questions about damages and that retaining the firm doesn’t guarantee that litigation will be filed.
Sexe said that if the data collection becomes overly burdensome for city staff, the city has options to exit the agreement.