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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Oklahoma's governor is worried AG Hunter won't turn $85M opioid settlement over to treasury


By John Sammon | Jun 18, 2019


NORMAN, Okla. (Legal Newsline) – Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and two high-ranking lawmakers fear that funds from a recent opioid settlement won't head their way and are asking to intervene, claiming Attorney General Mike Hunter's recent $85 million agreement with Teva Pharmaceutical might violate a new state law.

A law mandating that money from court settlements involving the State of Oklahoma go directly into the state treasury was passed in May to prevent what the lawmakers complained was an improper diversion of money conducted by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter after a $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharmaceuticals of Connecticut.  

The June 14 request asks the Cleveland County District Court to grant the right to intervene to make sure the money from the recent settlement with Teva Pharmaceutical goes directly into the state’s treasury. Joining the motion were Speaker of the House Charles McCall and Greg Treat, president pro tempore of the state Senate.

Teva, a producer of opioid drugs, agreed in May to an $85 million settlement with the State of Oklahoma over its alleged role in fueling the opioid crisis. Officials for the company denied they contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma but agreed to settle.  

Teva was the second company to settle with Oklahoma over the opioid epidemic.

In March, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to a $272 million settlement with the state.

That left Johnson & Johnson and its opioid drug-manufacturing arm called Janssen Pharmaceuticals, as the sole defendant in a trial in the Cleveland County District Court that is currently underway in Norman, Oklahoma.

Lawmakers were reportedly upset by the earlier disbursement of Purdue settlement overseen by Hunter. Purdue agreed to pay $200 million into an Oklahoma State University center for addiction treatment, but only $12.5 million to local governments to abate the epidemic in Oklahoma cities and counties, and $60 million to private lawyers who were entitled to a percentage of any recovery under their contract with the state. Hunter is an OSU grad.

The money going to OSU was reportedly earmarked toward treating the ongoing addiction epidemic nationwide. The university will start with an initial $102.5 million, then receive $15 million per year for the next five years. Another $20 million in medicines will be provided.   

A search of Oklahoma Ethics Commission records showed that lawyers hired in 2017 gave more than $95,000 to Hunter’s election campaign. The firms chosen by Hunter were Whitten Burrage, Nix Patterson and Glenn Coffee & Associates. The first two firms are pursuing the current suit against Johnson & Johnson for the state. Hunter earlier called Michael Burrage  and Reggie Whitten “great Oklahomans” with track records of success.

Contracts with outside attorneys are exempt  from competitive bidding, according to Hunter's office. 

Under Oklahoma laws, the state treasurer is supposed to receive all fines, fees, forfeitures and costs received by any state officer. The Oklahoma Constitution says, “no money shall be paid out of the treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation by law.”

Hunter said the money from the Teva settlement would go towards combating the opioid crisis, though the particulars remain unclear. 

In May Stitt signed into law HB 2751 with added emergency language mandating that funds from lawsuits involving the State of Oklahoma and settled by its attorney general go first into the state treasury so lawmakers can decide how it is to be spent.  

Hunter is a Republican, as are Stitt, McCall and Treat.

The request for intervention said that payment must first be made to the Oklahoma treasury.

“No exception is provided,” the request read. “It does not appear that the settlement (Teva) documents are consistent with either prior law or with the newly amended version  (HB2751). There is no language which provides for a transfer of any amount of the settlement to the State Treasury. Any language directing in any way the payment of said funds is an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers.”

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Organizations in this Story

Johnson & Johnson Oklahoma Attorney General's Office Purdue Pharma L.P Teva Pharmaceuticals

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