Harris County officials negotiated ‘bad’ deal on opioid suit

By The Record | Aug 21, 2018

Public officials in multiple Texas counties have resisted the allure of easy money and just said no to plaintiffs attorneys peddling opioid lawsuits.

The “pushers” can be persuasive, and persistent, but the numerous county officials have repeatedly rejected solicitations from eager opioid attorneys who don’t seem to know what no means (it means no), and won’t take it for an answer.

Other county officials – made of less stern stuff, have been unable to resist the overtures. Never mind that the only ones likely to benefit personally from such suits are the attorneys collecting very big contingent fees – that is, the only ones other than the county officials who awarded them the contracts and maybe expect to receive very big contributions to their reelection campaigns.

Which may explain why Harris County officials negotiated such a “bad” deal on behalf of its citizens when contracting for representation of their opioid suit.

Those officials agreed to pay a contingency fee of 35 percent to three lucky law firms, more than double what Dallas County’s elected representatives agreed to in their virtually identical suit. They also agreed that the fee would be based on gross rather than net recovery –  in other words, on the total settlement before expenses are deducted, rather than after (as “smarter” counties insist).

Are politicians in Houston dumber than the ones in Dallas? That could be, but you have to wonder if there isn’t more to the story.

“The county and city lawyers who negotiated contingency fee agreements were in over their heads when they agreed to pay 25 percent and even 35 percent and to pay 100 percent of expenses instead of splitting expenses with the lawyers,” declares Lester Brickman, emeritus professor of law at Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law.

Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe they weren’t so stupid. Maybe Brickman’s too diplomatic to suggest another explanation: a sweetheart deal that will personally benefit some county officials who made it.

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