Gov. John Bel Edwards
BATON ROUGE – Is it right for politically connected private attorneys to handle major lawsuits on behalf of a state?
That's the question some in Louisiana are asking after reviewing the list of 17 law firms hired to help the state's case against opioid manufacturers.The list includes attorneys who are former or current candidates for office, as well as attorneys who have made donations to Gov. John Bel Edwards or Attorney General Jeff Landry, a posting on The Advocate website said. Edwards and Landry are sharing the task of selecting lawyers to help the state make its case under terms of an agreement reached last year involving how the state's case would be handled.
In some instances the attorneys will be paid up to $500 per hour for their work, according to public records, and that has led to questions about whether it is appropriate for officials to steer lucrative law cases to those who have made donations or otherwise have connections to politicians..
"Lawsuits involving private attorney campaign contributors who stand to reap the benefits are simply not the answer," Lana Venable of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch said.
However, when questioned about leaders' political ties to the legal team being assembled, Chief Deputy Attorney General Wilbur "Bill" Stiles recently told The Advocate, "There's no politics in this issue. This is a crisis of great magnitude and importance for the people."
Venable goes further to suggest that beyond the problem of politically connected attorneys benefiting financially, there's the question of whether a lawsuit is the proper way to address the opioid crisis. Many states, plus hundreds of municipalities across the country, have filed suits against opioid manufacturers.
"The complex problem of opioid abuse should be addressed by elected policymakers, regulators, law enforcement and the medical and scientific communities – not the courts," Venable said.