CALA starts radio campaign against McGraw's OxyContin settlement

John O'Brien Sep. 17, 2007, 4:59pm



CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Radio stations across the state today are airing advertisements purchased by the state's legal watchdog group that criticize Attorney General Darrell McGraw's spending of the 2004 OxyContin settlement.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says McGraw's actions have harmed the state's senior citizens in a radio spot that also rails against McGraw's "reckless spending."

"In a recent lawsuit settlement, McGraw gave over $3 million to his campaign-contributing lawyer friends," the ad says. "Millions went to wealthy personal injury attorneys instead of (seniors)."

The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services recently decided to withhold $4.1 million from its next Medicaid payment to the State, though the State is appealing. The issue began in 2004, when McGraw's office, representing the state DHHR, settled a lawsuit with Purdue Pharma over the allegedly misrepresented addiction capabilities of the company's prescription painkiller OxyContin.

McGraw's office argued in the complaint that the drug created addicts who put a strain on the state's Medicaid budget. The two sides settled for $10 million, though McGraw structured the settlement in a way that allowed him to keep the settlement funds for the purpose of appropriating them himself.

The CMS provides roughly 75 cents of every dollar the State spends on Medicaid and wants what it feels is its share. McGraw's office has continued to give the settlement proceeds to various substance abuse programs around the state, as well $500,000 for a pharmacy school at the University of Charleston.

Critics like state Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, feel the State will lose the appeal and a hole in the budget will be created.

The CALA wants to see the new rules proposed by the American Tort Reform Association adopted in West Virginia. The ATRA proposed "new voluntary standards designed to improve government transparency and accountability when state attorneys general hire outside counsel to litigate on behalf of state residents."

Private practice attorneys received $3.4 million in the OxyContin settlement. They were Charleston attorneys David Brumfield and William Druckman, Charleston law firm DiTrapano, Barrett & DiPiero and Washington-based firm Taxpayers Cohen Milstein Hausfeld and Toll.

A Sunshine rule "would prevent the attorney general from seemingly rewarding those who bankroll the McGraw political machine with more than $3 million in legal fees from public funds when lawsuits are settled," CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said.

He added McGraw turned the $10 million settlement "into his own political slush fund for pet projects around the state."

Cohen and the CALA have long been critical of McGraw, who apparently doesn't think much of the CALA either.

In June, Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said CALA disguises itself as a grassroots organization when it is actually funded by "large out-of-state corporate interests," and that its mission is "to foster a legal environment that shields its contributors from accountability when they break the law."

"It works its sophisticated deception aimed at duping West Virginians into believing that only by giving up their rights to access to the courtroom can the State have economic development," Hughes wrote to lawmakers. "Unchecked and unfettered corporate power accountable only to shareholders is the real threat to fairness for all citizens."

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