LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) – Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge recently announced that her office will retain help from private firms to potentially sue opioid makers - and one of those lawyers is a former attorney general of Mississippi who was a main player in the nationwide tobacco litigation of the 1990s that the opioid litigation is often likened to.

Announced in late January, Rutledge's office has sought assistance from major law firms who are currently representing other states in their fights against pharmaceutical companies over the national opioid crisis. 

Rutledge's office entered into contracts with attorneys from Dover, Dixon, Horne PLLC of Little Rock; Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP of Seattle; the Mike Moore Law Firm of Mississippi; Davidson Bowie PLLC of Mississippi; and McGowan Hood Felder of South Carolina.

A copy of the retention agreement highlights how the firms would be compensated. The compensation structure, according to the agreement, only guarantees a payout to the firms once verdicts are reached. Otherwise, there is no compensation element besides provisions for expenses and reimbursements to be paid out.

Notably, the Mike Moore Law Firm is owned and operated by the former Mississippi attorney general who has shifted his focus to the opioid industry, years after making a prominent name for himself during the fight against big tobacco during the 1990s.

The result of that litigation was a Master Settlement Agreement in which companies agree to a yearly payment to states to offset health care costs, valued at more than $200 billion during its first 25 years. Private lawyers working on a contingency fee made billions in the deal.

Mississippi entered into a settlement apart from the MSA, as did a few other states. Moore's main help on the case was Dickie Scruggs, who was later disbarred and convicted of attempting to bribe two judges.

Moore previously served the Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in 2012 as outside counsel to handle the state’s various claims against oil giant BP.

Rutledge's retention agreement states explicitly that “outside counsel shall receive no compensation for any services rendered unless a recovery is awarded through settlement or litigation and collected by, and for the benefit of, the” attorney general’s office.  

The agreement states that if the client - the state government via the attorney general’s office - gains recovery through any future verdicts, the payments that the private counsel will receive will be remitted to those respected firms through predetermined payment schedules. All potential costs for attorney fees are contingent upon the size of individual recoveries and verdicts from future judgments and settlements if any are reached. 

Rutledge’s actions, including the hiring of Moore and additional outside counsel, reflect on her legal initiatives to combat the opioid crisis in Arkansas. The state of Arkansas is second in the country for opioid prescriptions with 114.6 prescriptions per 100 people, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The national average is 66 prescriptions per 100 people. 

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