Attorney General Adam Laxalt met with an influential personal injury attorney over potential litigation against opioid manufacturers, months before criticizing a municipality exploring a similar lawsuit.
Laxalt and a top deputy, J. Brin Gibson, met with attorney Robert Eglet on June 23, 2017 to discuss “opioid litigation,” according to a copy of the Republican attorney general’s calendar obtained by The Nevada Independent through a public records request.
The meeting came just a few weeks after state lawmakers had approved a little-noticed, last-minute amendment in the waning hours of the 2017 Legislature that removed a set of caps on fees recoverable by outside law firms that enter into “contingent fee” contracts with the state. Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, a partner at Eglet’s law firm, helped get the amendment passed.
Although Laxalt had a week earlier announced the state’s involvement in a 41-state coalition of attorneys general investigating potential unlawful practices by opioid manufacturers, his office said in a statement on Wednesday that Eglet had requested the meeting after the announcement was made.
“Within days, plaintiff’s attorney Robert Eglet requested a meeting with Attorney General Laxalt and his staff,” spokeswoman Monica Moazez said in an email. “The office agreed to the meeting and listened to Mr. Eglet’s presentation. After the presentation, the office ultimately decided that Nevada was best positioned to succeed by continuing to participate in the bipartisan multistate investigation by 40 attorneys general.”
Moazez said that the attorney general still believed the multi-state group — which served subpoenas to major drug companies Purdue, Endo, Janssen, Teva/Cephalon and Allergan in September — was the “most cost and legally effective option available” to the state.
“While this office commends the determination of local jurisdictions to protect residents, we continue to believe Nevada is best positioned in the bipartisan multistate effort of 40 attorneys general,” she wrote. “We continue to hope that any lawsuits by local jurisdictions do not unintentionally undermine our ongoing bipartisan investigation.”
In an earlier email, Eglet said he had lobbied for the change in law on contingent fees after being told that Laxalt was interested in hiring outside counsel to assist the state on a contingent basis, and said Laxalt’s office seemed “enthusiastic” at the meeting about the firm bringing such a case forward.
“This was done in large part because we were told that Laxalt was interested in retaining outside counsel to pursue an opioids case on behalf of the state,” he wrote in the email.
Although he chose not to partner with Eglet, Laxalt reached out to Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve in November 2017 expressing concern that her plan to enter the city into a separate lawsuit against opioid manufacturers would undermine the state’s involvement in the ongoing multistate investigation.
He and Nevada Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa followed up in a letter telling Schieve that her intentions could “unintentionally undermine” any settlement funds Nevada might receive as part of the multistate lawsuit.
“More specifically, we believe that a lawsuit by the City of Reno could thwart our office’s ongoing investigation, any potential discussions with opioids manufacturers, and any potential agreements that could uniformly address the opioid crisis in Nevada,” they wrote in November.
Schieve responded to the letter by stating Laxalt’s request was “unsupported” and pitted “Nevadans against Nevadans.” The Reno City Council voted in January to retain Eglet Prince as part of a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
The firm has entered into contracts with Reno, Clark County and North Las Vegas, and has presented to a wide variety of other municipalities throughout the state over entering into similar contingent-fee suits.
The attorney general’s office has typically defended its approach on opioid litigation, saying that its current involvement in the multistate investigation was done to avoid “inevitable delays” and could better position the state to engage in its own lawsuit somewhere down the line.
“State attorneys general retain the authority to serve subpoenas (as we did in September of last year), and obtain information and documents without major procedural hurdles and challenges that litigation presents,” Moazez wrote in the email. “What’s more, participating in a national investigation where each state can share resources, tactics and experiences, poises Nevada to be fully prepared to pursue a lawsuit and resolution, if and when needed.”
Laxalt’s calendar also revealed several one-on-one meetings with top national and state figures, including a breakfast meeting with Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on June 26 ahead of his appearance at the National Sheriffs’ Association Conference in Reno.
He participated in a conference call with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on July 13, as part of a briefing over the Waters of the United States rule. Laxalt in 2015 entered Nevada into a lawsuit with 12 other states challenging the Obama administration’s expansion of the rule, which covers federally protected waters under the Clean Water Act. Laxalt also had scheduled a July 14 call with MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren.
Disclosure: MGM Resorts has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
Updated at 8: 20 a.m. to correct wording in the first paragraph. The Reno City Council did not initially plan to work with the Eglet Prince law firm on opioid litigation.