CHARLESTON, WV (WVDN) — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Monday, October 9, 2023, filed his office’s objection to the 15% attorneys’ fees adopted by the Mass Litigation Panel based on the recommendation by the commissioner of the Common Benefit Fund in the state’s opioid litigation.
So far, opioid settlements are currently $940,386,000, but may very well exceed $1 billion with the resolution of the remaining matters currently in bankruptcy courts. The combined effort of the Attorney General’s Office, the cities and counties in West Virginia resulted in the highest opioid settlements per capita in the country.
The attorney general raised “serious concerns” on the amount, writing in the objection, “While we believe that a substantial amount of time, effort, and work by numerous firms has led to the recovery in these matters, the payment of 15% of the gross settlement amounts in attorney fees is not appropriate in this matter.”
The matter was filed in the Kanawha County Circuit Court.
“I am troubled by the aggregate amount of attorneys’ fees that will be paid from the settlements, which includes cities and counties,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “It was my hope that the people of West Virginia would benefit from the money we were able to save by negotiating for lower fees.
“Unfortunately, by awarding fees totaling 15% of the settlements, the full value of those negotiations will not be realized.”
From the beginning of the opioid litigation, Attorney General Morrisey was concerned with the amount of hard-earned settlement money that would fall into the hands of the attorneys. That is why the office negotiated with its outside counsel for a contingency fee far below the standard set forth in W.Va. Code §5-3-3a for all work performed for the state.
That negotiated number is 7.76%–the state negotiated one of the lowest (if not the lowest) attorneys’ fees in the nation.
The 15% would place the attorneys’ fees at $141,057,900. That figure may balloon to more than $150 million under the current recommendation.
That amount does not include the additional Multi District Litigation (MDL) assessment of 7.5% of the $400 million aggregate settlement reached with the distributors. Taken together, the real amount being paid in fees and costs for the state’s opioid litigation becomes $171,057,900 (18.2%).
“Such an amount is wildly excessive and will directly reduce the amount of money that can be used to save people’s lives,” according to the Attorney General’s objection.
The Attorney General’s Office has consistently pushed for an amount of attorney fees well below the 15% that is now being recommended, an amount far more consistent with the negotiated contract with our outside counsel.
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