Records show all-out, unsolicited attorney scramble to sign up Texas counties for opioid litigation
By: David Yates
A new lawyer feeding frenzy has swept through Texas – a rush to push counties onboard the opioid litigation train before the state can pull into the station.
From cold calling to bombarding county officials with emails, letters and even PowerPoint presentations, Texas attorneys have actively been soliciting, an all-out effort that hasn’t always courted success.
For example, an open records request shows on Aug. 7 Matt Daniel, a partner with the Dallas law firm Ferrer Poirot Wansbrough, requested an opportunity to pitch before the Gregg County Commissioners Court “to explain the growing opioid crisis and the way our law firm can help by representing your interests against the distributors who have profited from opioid litigation.”
“They have destroyed many communities and this is our chance to send a message that this will not be tolerated,” the firm’s letter to Gregg County states.
Gregg County denied the request, but evidently not deterred, Daniel went ahead and made an appointment to meet with the county judge – an effort that apparently would also “not be tolerated,” records show.
“I wish to cancel the September 19 appointment for Matt Daniel to see Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt,” states a Sept. 5 response authored by Diane Pearson, executive assistant to Judge Stoudt.
“We are not interested in pursuing an opiate class action lawsuit; and, quite frankly, it would be a waste of Mr. Daniel’s time and efforts. We have been contacted by various law firms in the past regarding class action lawsuits and have never participated.
“We are not a litigious county.”
Closer to home in Jefferson County, an open records request shows County Judge Jeff Branick fielded “several phone calls from attorneys in connection with” the opioid issue, even though the county has chosen to not “join the litigation at this time.”
The county received more than phone calls.
Over the past six months, records show the county received numerous emails from attorneys with Fibich Leebron Copeland Briggs in Houston and Benckenstein & Oxford, a Beaumont firm.
The emails contained links to news articles featuring other counties and cities suing opioid makers, a PowerPoint presentation, persistent queries on whether Jefferson County would sue and even a request to get together for a workshop.
The last email in the chain came as recently as March 23 and was sent by Jay Henderson, a Fibich attorney.
“Hello Fred (Jackson) (attorney to the county judge) – I saw a report that Orange County (a neighboring county) hired counsel to get involved in the opioid wars. Do you know of any recent thoughts on this topic in Jefferson County? Just checking in,” the email reads.
None of the emails given to the Record expressed any interest by county officials in wanting additional information from the law firms or to meet with their attorneys.
Johnson County is another example of unwanted attorney solicitation.
Earlier this year, Mark Murphy of Davis Santos, a San Antonio law firm, reached out to Johnson County in hopes of discussing “the opioid epidemic” and was politely told County Judge Roger Harmon wasn’t “requesting any information regarding the opioid litigation at this time,” records show.
Murphy experienced the same level of success when he sent a nearly identical request to Collin County, an open records request revealed.
In fact, records show Collin County has been bombarded by several law firms, including Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett – a Dallas firm representing dozens of Texas counties.
Collin County, which is still holding strong despite the constant shelling, also received pitches from Cappolino Dodd Krebs, a Cameron law firm, and the Fears Nachawati Law Firm in Dallas.
Cappolino Dodd Krebs is working in conjunction with Simon Greenstone on opioid litigation.
One attorney document (entitled Why Not Wait?) sent to Collin County warns “to file first” to avoid abatement should the state of Texas file an opioid lawsuit.
“A case filed by the State of Texas through its Attorney General should not stay a county’s case if the county case was filed first,” the document states. “The first case filed by Collin County has dominant jurisdiction and the case filed by the State of Texas is abated.
“The most important aspect of abatement, however, is to file first to have the strongest argument no matter the individual facts we may face at a later date.”
An open records request sent to the Texas Office of the Attorney General shows the state “anticipates” filing an opioid lawsuit.
Of course, not all attorney sales pitches were unsuccessful, as hundreds of counties and cities across the nation have already filed opioid lawsuits.
Settlement talks are already underway for more than 250 opioid lawsuits that are part of a multidistrict litigation panel in Ohio.