HOUSTON – Even though Kendall County has been sighted for an opioid bellwether trial, a contingent fee contract between the county and its attorneys has not been approved, according to documents obtained by The Record.
More than 100 opioid lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Texas municipalities. The bulk of those suits have been ushered into an MDL court in Harris County.
Last July, the plaintiffs in the MDL selected Dallas County, the second most populated county in Texas, as their first choice for a bellwether trial, hoping to bring the case to trial in October 2020.
One of the defendants’ choices for a follow up bellwether is Kendall County, which is represented by the Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett law firm.
Back in December, Kendall County asked the Office of the Attorney General of Texas to approve its proposed contingent fee contract, according to documents obtained by The Record.
On March 3, Assistant Attorney General Michael Neill responded, telling Kendall County the OAG cannot approve the contract because of House Bill 2826.
Prior to Sept. 1, Texas trial lawyers could solicit local governments for litigious purposes and then send contingency fee contracts to the Comptroller’s Office for approval. HB 2826, which places contract approval in the hands of the attorney general, changed that process.
“HB 2826, which amended the Texas Government Code and gives our office authority to approve certain contingent fee contracts for political subdivision, went into effect on September 1, 2019,” writes Neill. “HB 2826 applies only to a contract entered into on or after the effective date of HB 2826.
“As such, the OAG cannot approve the submitted contract.”
As previously reported, at least 19 Texas counties, including Kendall County, failed to have their opioid contracts approved by the comptroller before HB 2826 became law.
Jeffrey Simon, a partner at Simon Greenstone, told The Record that the OAG is indicating that HB 2826 does not apply to Kendall County because Kendall County’s contract with outside counsel pre-dated the new law.
So if the OAG cannot approve contingency fee contracts that predate HB 2826, and the office holds the authority to approve or deny contingent fee contracts entered into after the bill became law, where does that leave counties without approved contracts?
Mark Lanier, founder of the Lanier Law Firm in Houston, may know the answer.
In November, the Tarrant County Hospital District signed an opioid contract with Lanier. The hospital district then submitted the contingent fee contract for review, records show.
On Feb. 24, the OAG refused to approve the contract, stating that the state is currently litigating its own opioid lawsuit and believes “pursuit” of an opioid suit by the hospital district “will not promote the just and efficient resolution of the matter.”