Southeast Texas Record

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Voters can approve or reject opioid lawsuits, too

Our View

By The Record | Oct 15, 2019

General court 10

Two decades ago, Texas legislators revised rules for government agencies hiring outside lawyers, thenceforth requiring contingency-fee contracts to be submitted to the state comptroller for approval, capping contingency fees at 35 percent, establishing strict requirements for keeping billing records, and prescribing a method for calculating fees.

This year, they revised the rules again. As of Sept. 1, local governments must negotiate “reasonable” hourly rates for contingency-fee contracts and get approval from the state attorney general, rather than the comptroller.

The new law also requires that contracts be negotiated with the “most highly qualified” attorneys and that plans to hire private attorneys be announced publicly. 

Some of the 103 (out of 254) Texas counties that negotiated contingency-fee contracts for opioid litigation failed to have those contracts approved by the comptroller before authority passed to the attorney general six weeks ago.

Whoops! Too bad for the 19 or so counties that snoozed through the deadline, because they may have to clear a higher hurdle when they seek the AG’s approval. Too bad for the law firms ostensibly representing them, too.

In the meantime, citizens of the other 80-plus counties pursuing opioid lawsuits might want to question the motivation of local officials. Are those public servants and their attorneys really trying to address a public health crisis or just trying to exploit it for personal gain?

Are persons elected and compensated by the taxpayer seeking to swell county coffers with revenue not subject to voter approval?  Are they anticipating, or have they already benefited from, generous contributions to their reelection campaigns from the attorneys who will profit from successful litigation?

Are the drug manufacturers and distributors named in their lawsuits the real culprits behind opioid abuse or just the most tempting targets for shakedown? Are local officials themselves not responsible for letting the problem get out of hand in the first place?

Whether or not the contracts were approved by the comptroller or will be approved by the attorney general, voters will have the final say at the next election.

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