AVALA, King spar over outside counsel process

John O'Brien Sep. 30, 2009, 1:46pm


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - Alabama Attorney General Troy King should open state legal contracts to a bidding process and stop putting political pressure on the state Supreme Court, the executive director of a legal reform group said Wednesday.

King recently called Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse a "mouthpiece" for the pharmaceutical industry in reference to its stance against fees earned by outside counsel hired by King to sue more than 70 drug companies over alleged overpricing.

AVALA executive director Skip Tucker says King should open the bidding process to possibly get a better deal than the 14 percent the two firms are receiving.

"There are probably six major law firms in Alabama that have the resources to handle a lawsuit of that kind, and as we said before those contracts ought to be bid on and be online so everyone can put out a bid," Tucker said.

"We have also asked for the time and expenses they spend be kept very detailed. Basically just common sense things."

Tucker made similar comments in a story regarding the lawsuits, and King, a Republican, fired back with an editorial that ran in three Alabama newspapers.

"(I)ntense political and public relations efforts have been made to shift the focus of the debate away from the actions of these defendants," King wrote.

"For example, some of their mouthpieces have tried to change the focus from the drug companies' guilt to how much the attorneys who prosecuted them have been paid.

"It is no secret -- the state's lawyers have been paid 14 percent of what they recovered. As my daddy used to tell me, most of something is better than all of nothing, which is how much Alabama would have recovered if outside lawyers had not litigated these cases since these law firms have fronted time and out-of-pocket expenses in amounts greater than my office's entire annual budget."

Tucker said his organization's relationship with King is not quite "love-hate." He feels King thinks AVALA is in the corner of Luther Strange, King's opponent in 2010's Republican primary, because Strange embraced the proposed Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act.

Tucker noted that King also supported the bill earlier this year.

"We're not in (Strange's) camp," Tucker said. "Troy King thinks we're mouthpieces for pharmaceutical companies.

"Anyone that harms or injures anyone else should reasonably compensate them. We believe in lawsuits, but these cases appear to be weak when you combined the bully pulpit and trial lawyers representing the State.

"Then, with a highly effective trial lawyer like (Jere) Beasley, the propensity for lawsuit abuse reaches critical mass when the State combines with a high-powered law firm."

PARSA requires outside firms to keep a detailed record of hours and expenses to be made public at some point, and caps what the firms can earn at $1,000 per hour. It is modeled after a proposal made by the American Tort Reform Association.

Another Republican attorney general, South Carolina's Henry McMaster, has received attention for accepting campaign contributions from attorneys he hired for state cases.

The two firms on King's pharmaceutical cases, Beasley's firm and Hand Arendall, have not contributed to King's campaign.

AVALA says the State has received nearly $100 million from the cases so far. Of that, $56.7 million have gone to the general fund, $26 million have gone to the attorneys and $17 million is in an escrow account.

King has filed a lawsuit against the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regarding the amount of money the federal government can claim from Medicaid recovery lawsuits.

Five cases have gone to trial. Three were successful, earning the State judgments of $215 million, $80.9 million and $33.2 million. The defendants have appealed to the state Supreme Court.

"It has now been more than 18 months since the first verdict," King wrote.

"And still the Alabama Supreme Court has not ruled on these cases. I call on the court to do so. I have done my part and sent the message -- Alabama is a very bad place to come and steal. All of Alabama now watches and waits to see if the court will allow that message to be received and our people protected."

Tucker said King shouldn't be pressuring the Court, on which Republicans hold an 8-1 majority. Three of the seats are up for election next year.

"(King is) putting undue pressure on his fellow conservatives and GOP members," Tucker said.

"King, with three justice seats coming open in 2010, is knowably putting political pressure to cave into trial lawyers, even though they only have a 60-percent success rate.

"And what it does, if the Supreme Court affirms these high-dollar verdicts, once the Supreme Court reaches a decision on this thing the settlements will start. Depending on the Supreme Court decisions, millions upon millions upon millions of dollars are at stake. If they affirm high-dollar awards, the settlements are going to be high-dollar."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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