‘We’re done waiting.’ House resolution calls on AG to ‘immediately’ sue opioid manufacturers

It’s no secret that some GOP state lawmakers are not happy with Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes these days.

And now comes HJR12, a resolution sponsored by Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, that calls upon Reyes to “immediately” sue major opioid drug manufactures, seeking damages for deceitful marketing of their products and the harm caused to any number of Utahns – including dozens of overdose deaths each month.

“There is growing anxiety inside the Legislature” over Reyes’ refusal to file suit, McKell told UtahPolicy.com.

“We are done waiting,” McKell said. “We want action, the sooner the better.”

McKell says Utah should not even join the growing number of state and county attorneys who are filing suit jointly against the firms.

“As a practicing trial attorney, I know we have a much better chance” of getting a quick, large reward going it alone rather than waiting for class actions, McKell said.

He says Utah should file its own, single suit. That is the best way, his resolution says, to getting even more money – likely in the tens millions of dollars, maybe even hundreds of millions of dollars – from the drug manufacturers.

McKell is a personal injury lawyer, and says he’s running HJR12 with the backing and help of House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who in his opening 2018 legislative remarks said now is the time to go after the opioid producers in court.

But it is unlikely Reyes will do what HJR12 asks, even if it does pass.

In recent media interviews, Reyes says his office is getting the required pre-trial disclosures from drug companies and others already suing them.

It’s a smarter legal move, Reyes said, to seek an out-of-court settlement. Less money spent on expensive outside legal experts, and a quicker overall settlement, he believes.

However, Reyes’ office is also reviewing local and national law firms and should be ready to pull the trigger should he decide to file suit, after all.

Spencer Austin, Reyes’ chief of litigation, tells UtahPolicy.com that his office has been very active for over a year now, getting information and depositions with 41 other state attorneys general. “It would be precipitous to file immediately, until we see” what the multi-state action may turn out to be.”

In short, Reyes says he is doing his job on this matter. And Utahns’ interests are being looked after.

Reyes is an independently-elected prosecutor. The Legislature can’t order him to do anything – although the Legislature’s own legal office might be able to sue the drug manufacturers on behalf of their branch of government.

The Legislature’s attorneys likely don’t have the manpower to carry such a huge case – but lawmakers might be able to hire outside counsel to do so on their own.

However, also introduced on Monday morning is SB171 by Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton.

That bill says the Legislature, on its own, can bring suit in matters affecting the Legislature or any law that it passes.

A very broad declaration that the Legislature – rather than the Utah attorney general – can get into court for any number of reasons.

McKell said he was unaware of Adams’ bill – but it makes sense to him.

There are other states’ expert legal advisors who have put together viable lawsuits – and there’s no reason Utah couldn’t do the same, says McKell, perhaps by hiring one or more of the same national law firms.

Meanwhile, should Reyes balk at filing suit, UtahPolicy has been told there is a yet-to-be-made-public bill that would tell legislative attorneys to start such a lawsuit – apparently bypassing Reyes’ office all together.

Finally, politics could also be playing a part in all of this.

Both Hughes and Reyes are reportedly looking at running for the GOP governor’s nomination in 2020 – so the worse off Reyes looks in not actively pursuing the opioid drug firms, well, you see the political side, as well.