County one step closer to joining opioid litigation

Oktibbeha County Courthouse (courtesy)
Staff Writer

The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors are one step closer to joining opioid litigation after its meeting last week.

Two attorneys, A.J. Elkins and Tony Gaylord, who are a part of a team filing litigation in federal court regarding the opioid crisis, provided a second presentation to supervisors pertaining to having the county join the litigation.

Supervisors were provided with a presentation from fellow attorneys at an earlier meeting, and both Elkins and Gaylord wanted to answer any follow-up questions they had.

"The goal of the litigation has been to assist public bodies in retrieving some of their costs associated with this huge national epidemic that we are faced with right now," Gaylord said.

Elkins said their group, along with five other law firms across the country, are representing 400 municipalities and counties. He said the judge presiding over the case entered a scheduling order and the litigation is slated for March 2019.

"The litigation is moving forward quickly," Elkins said.

In addition to representing a large number of counties and municipalities, Elkins said their group has several experts assisting with the litigation.

"With hiring our group, Oktibbeha County will get the benefit of those experts," Elkins said. "Not just a direct benefit of their expertise, but the cost associated with those would be spread among our clients."

Elkins said in Mississippi, about 15 or 20 municipalities and counties have joined the litigation. The city of Starkville recently approved to join the litigation.

District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller asked both Elkins and Gaylord what the difference will be between the opioid litigation versus the tobacco lawsuit. She said the attorneys involved in the tobacco litigation received large funds while those truly affected did not.

"How is this actually going to benefit those people who are actually affected by the drug,” Miller said. “Who is this going to be any different than the tobacco lawsuit?"

Gaylord said with the tobacco lawsuit, the state received a large portion of the recovery fund. In this particular manner, Gaylord said individual counties and cities will receive the funds associated with any settlement of the matter.

He said each county would make the decision as to how it would reimburse themselves. Gaylord said each entity would create a "damage model" as to how it would want to receive funds from the settlement.

"Some entities have decided they've wanted to spend money on patrol cars," Gaylord said. "Some entities have decided they want to build treatment centers, and they're building drug treatment centers to help those folks who are facing the epidemic."

Gaylord said the damage model is going to be up to the individual entity, but it'll focus on three categories: law enforcement, education and health care.

Supervisors questioned what the rates will be once the litigation is complete, and the response was if there is a recovery of funds from the lawsuit, 25 percent of the funds will go to the attorneys and 75 percent goes to the client after expenses.

"I do not think this is a bad idea," Board Attorney Rob Roberson said. "My theory on this is that if other counties are going to get a piece of this, I think that Oktibbeha County deserves their share of this."

Although in favor of the idea, Roberson said he would like to review the contracts before making a decision.

Gaylord said each entity would need to have a resolution to claim opioid abuse as a public nuisance and anticipates the litigation will reach a "sizable" settlement.

Supervisors agreed to let Roberson read over the contract and bring the contract to the board for potential approval at its next meeting.