Lawyers hired by Cook County to help press the county’s case against drug companies over the proliferation of opioid painkillers stand to pocket at least a quarter of Cook County’s cut of any settlement or dollar amount awarded by a court.
According to a contract, executed Nov. 29 by the chief of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s Civil Actions Bureau, Chaka M. Patterson, the county will agree to allow the law firms of St. Charles-based Meyers & Flowers LLC and Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, of downstate Alton, to claim at least 25 percent of “any gross amount recovered” as a result of the county’s litigation.
The Cook County Record obtained a copy of the contract from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The lawyers would also be allowed to claim “reasonable expenses,” including for “court fees, process server fees, expert witness fees, court reporting fees, reasonable travel expenses, witness fees, courier service fees, and consulting fees.”
Payment to the lawyers, however, is contingent on a settlement or award at trial, as the contract specifies the county has no obligation to pay the law firms if the county collects nothing, and the lawyers cannot charge the county more than the county collects under a settlement or trial verdict.
The two firms would split their fees equally, according to the contract.
“County’s recovery from the final disposition will be the total gross recovery minus attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs,” the contract states.
The lawyers also would not be able to “accept or reject any final settlement amount” without the county’s consent, the contract said.
The Meyers and Simmons firms were retained by Cook County, and appointed as “special assistant state’s attorneys” in late November, as Cook County prepared to launch its litigation against the pharmaceutical companies it blames for fomenting a public health crisis blamed on the promotion of the use of so-called opioid painkillers.
Sold under various brand names, including OxyContin and Percocet, the pills stand at the center of a growing maelstrom of litigation in courts across the country, as local governments and plaintiffs’ lawyers line up to grab a cut of a settlement or award that some legal observers believe could ultimately rival the multiple billions of dollars in settlements cut by tobacco companies over the public health effects of cigarettes.
Cook County’s lawsuit, filed Dec. 27 in Cook County Circuit Court, resembles those filed by other cities and counties nationwide, accusing the drugmakers of falsely marketing their drugs to doctors, promoting their use to the point patients became addicted, and the addiction spread through communities, leading to big costs for local governments and their taxpayers to treat addictions and its after-effects.
In the Cook County suit, the county noted it annually pays millions of dollars to deal with opioid addiction and its health effects, including overdose deaths and treatments in the county’s hospitals and jails.
Nationally, the lawsuit cited a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating the “national impact of prescription opioid overdoses, abuse and dependence” at $78.5 billion, including “lost productivity” at $42 billion, “health insurance” at $26 billion, “criminal justice” at $7.6 billion and “substance abuse treatment” at $2.8 billion.
The county said in its lawsuit the “economic impact of prescription opioid overdoses on the county is well in line with national trends.”
Defendants named in the lawsuit, as in many others across the country, include drugmakers Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma; Lake Forest-based Abbott Laboratories; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and its corporate parent, Johnson & Johnson; and Malvern, Pa.-based Endo Pharmaceuticals, as well as several corporate entities associated with those companies.
The county has asked the court to award compensatory damages, to be tripled under state consumer fraud, insurance fraud and deceptive practices laws, unspecified punitive damages and attorney fees, among other damages.
A spokesperson for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office did not reply to questions submitted by the Cook County Record on Friday about the contract and other aspects of the litigation and the law firms’ representation of the county.
In a press release announcing the lawsuit in December, Foxx said the county “must act in the public interest and hold accountable those who have been complicit in the creation of this epidemic."
County officials have not stated why it was necessary for the county to hire the Simmons and Meyers firms to prosecute the case, noting only the firms are “two of the nation’s largest law firms focused on consumer protection and mass tort actions.”
The county’s lawsuit remains pending in Cook County court.
However, the fate of the lawsuit may be intertwined with that of most other opioid lawsuits now pending across the country.
A lawsuit by the city of Chicago, which has been pending in court since 2014, has been consolidated with 180 other similar actions before a federal judge in Cleveland.
Lawyers representing the plaintiff counties, cities and other local governments in those other cases selected Paul Hanly of the Simmons Hanly firm to serve as one of three lead attorneys on the opioid combined action.
Locally, the Simmons firm have been hired by more than a dozen other Illinois counties, including the collar counties of DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Will, as well as Kankakee County, to prosecute similar lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies.