FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, will introduce a resolution on the first day of the 2020 General Assembly to hire an investigating counsel to look into Kentucky’s 2015 settlement with Purdue Pharma.
The suit was brought in 2007 by then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who is seeking to return to that office in November, against the maker of OxyContin, in response to the opioid epidemic in Kentucky. Stumbo has said he anticipated a $1 billion settlement, but former Attorney General Jack Conway settled it for $24 million, days before leaving office.
Stivers, speaking to reporters in Frankfort on Tuesday, said he reviewed the recent settlement between the drug maker and the State of Oklahoma.
“We were shortchanged, receiving pennies on the dollar to a smaller, less affected sister state. We have a larger overall population and 27.9 opioid-related deaths per 100,000 residents. Our $24 million versus Oklahoma’s $270 million is anything but a victory for Kentucky.”
“As an eastern Kentuckian and an elected leader of the commonwealth, I am convinced we could have done better. While no amount of money could ever justify the devastation opioids have caused, it can help us implement solutions for the ongoing problems.”
Stivers says his resolution would involve a comprehensive investigation of the facts and circumstances of the Purdue Pharma settlement. “The Legislative Research Commission shall obtain the services of an investigating counsel, either an individual or a firm, with extensive experience in both criminal cases and complex civil litigation, who will be fair, impartial and non-political to conduct the investigation.”
The LRC would issue subpoenas requested by the investigating counsel under existing state law.
Stivers says he hopes the investigation can wrap up in six to eight months “and the investigating counsel shall issue a report of the findings, including any criminal referrals deemed necessary and any recommendations for further civil litigation, determined to be beneficial to the people of Kentucky.”
He said there are 12 questions he wants answered:
--Why did Kentucky settle for 10 percent of what Oklahoma obtained?
--What legal theories were omitted from the original case filing and why?
--Why did the Attorney General’s office agree to seal the file?
--Why did Jack Conway say that he was planning on taking the case to the governor’s office with him if he won the governor’s race, yet settled when he lost?
--Why, if Jack Conway thought there would be a conflict of interest if Andy Beshear won as Attorney General did he not just transfer the case to the Governor’s office with Bevin, rather than settle?
--Why did the Attorney General settle the case mere days before leaving office?
--Did Conway consult with either the incoming Attorney General (Beshear) or the new Governor, prior to settling the case? If not, why not?
--Why was outside counsel paid a substantial fee despite being no longer under contract?
--Why was outside counsel’s fee of $4 million paid up front, when the state was to be paid over ten years?
--Was there any connection between the timing of the settlement and the Attorney General (Conway) accepting employment with outside counsel?
--Are there any issues in the settlement negotiations that would give rise to Kentucky re-opening the case?
--Why was the case settled so quickly, when it had been ongoing since 2007?
Stivers said he had not spoken to Gov. Matt Bevin or anyone on his staff about his proposal, but has talked with House and Senate Republican leadership, adding House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, “seemed receptive to the idea.”
Osborne offered the following statement on the heels of the press conference:
“A number of questions have been raised since details of the most recent opioid settlement became public. I think the people of Kentucky have a right to know if their elected officials were indeed acting in their best interest when they settled for such a significantly lower amount in 2015,” he said. “There appear to be some very salient issues with what motivated our former attorney general to settle and what role our current attorney general played in the settlement. Too many Kentucky lives have been lost or ruined in this epidemic, it would be shameful for these individuals to also be victimized by the very people who took an oath to protect them.”
The 2020 General Assembly convenes on Jan. 7.