Pasquotank hires 2nd law firm for opioid litigation


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Pasquotank County has hired more lawyers to represent it in national opioid litigation, following a unanimous vote of commissioners Monday night.

Pasquotank is now represented by the law firm of Ward and Smith, of New Bern, and Asheville-based attorney Harold Seagle. They’re in addition to the McHugh Fuller Law Group, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, whom commissioners voted to hire in April when Pasquotank joined hundreds of local governments pursuing damages against opioid distributors and manufacturers. Those governments are being represented by a consortium of law firms alleging the companies need to pay for the “public nuisance” of rising opioid addictions and deaths.

Following a closed session Monday, Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Bill Sterritt recommended hiring the additional firms — apparently at the consortium’s request — as part of the same agreement with McHugh Fuller. The terms are the same, meaning the firms will be paid 25 percent of any damages or settlement won from the companies, plus expenses capped at another 10 percent of the litigation. If the firms win no money, Pasquotank owes them nothing, according to the agreement.

In a followup interview Tuesday, Pasquotank County Attorney Michael Cox said Ward and Smith contacted the county just after Garry Whitaker, a Winston-Salem attorney did, about joining the litigation. It’s likely the consortium asked Pasquotank hire the firm because it’s representing other local governments in North Carolina, he explained.

A spokesperson for Ward and Smith was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. Seagle said he had to refer press inquiries to a consortium spokesperson.

The multi-district litigation is being heard in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio. The court’s website shows the case is working through orders concerning depositions, including obtaining federal drug data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In his presentation to commissioners this spring, Whitaker said those data would help with arguments that opioid companies ignored “suspicious orders” showing rising, excessive opioid prescriptions.

A trade organization for the opioid companies argues that blaming them for rising prescriptions “defies common sense” and reducing opioid abuse requires a collaborative approach, not litigation.