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HOLBROOK and ST. JOHNS — The boards of supervisors for Apache and Navajo counties have differing approaches in their lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opiate drugs. They differ in the number of law firms hired, the rate of pay for the law firms and the courts in which they filed their suits.

It’s important to note that litigation involving drug manufacturers and distributors (and others) could become the largest commercial tort litigation in history, dwarfing the claims made against tobacco companies which resulted in Big Tobacco paying out $250 billion in settlements in 1998. According to Jurist magazine, there are more that 30 states, 1,500 cities and counties all suing pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers and pharmacies. The plaintiffs seek to recoup the massive costs caused by the so-called opiate epidemic that takes on average 130 lives in the U.S. every day in overdose deaths, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Navajo County hired one law firm, Keller Rohrback, L.L.P. of Phoenix. As payment, that firm will receive 15% of the total amount the county recovers, less the costs that it pays during the course of the litigation. Costs mean court costs like filing fees, service of process fess, costs for depositions, transcripts, expert witness fees, etc. If Navajo County’s case goes to a trial, the law firm’s portion rises to 18%.

Apache County on the other hand has hired three law firms: Fennemore Craig, P.C., in Phoenix and two California law firms, Theodora Oringher PC in Costa Mesa and Andrews & Thornton in Newport Beach. The firms will collectively charge legal fees of 20% of the amount the county recovers, less costs, according to their agreement with the county.

Oddly, Apache County has approved an Independent Contractor Agreement with one Veritas Research Consulting, LTD to provide “litigation support” in this effort. According to its website, Veritas concerns itself with public lands and natural resource issues and in 2016, its CEO was Doyel Shamley, a former supervisor on the Apache County Board of Supervisors. Veritas is registered with the Nevada Secretary of State as a Nevada Company; its “Manager” is listed as some company with an address in Panama—the country, that is. Why Apache County needs support from Veritas in its action against drug companies is not known.

The choice of forum, as they say in the law, is also different. Navajo County sued in federal district court in Arizona and that case was moved to the Northern District of Ohio federal court along with about 600 other cases. It’s not really a “class-action” suit, rather the federal system calls it “multidistrict litigation.”

Apache County has sued in the Arizona Superior Court in Apache County. Yavapai and Yuma counties have also sued in state court, in their respective counties. The reason for that says attorney Jeff Reeves of Theodora Oringer PC is the preference for a local judge and a local jury to hear the case; after all, he says, they are most aware of the negative impact the activities of the defendants have allegedly had on Apache County. By contrast, Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon points to the cost-savings of joining similarly-placed plaintiffs as the reason the Navajo County Board of Supervisors went in that direction.

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

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