Attorney General Mike Hunter and Tulsa lawyer Gentner Drummond, one of two challengers to Hunter in the June 26 Republican primary, tussled again on Monday, this time over a contract between the state and outside counsel in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
Drummond initiated the nose-poking by suggesting the contract may have been a sweetheart deal for some political insiders; Hunter’s side responded by insinuating Drummond might be fronting for the drug companies Hunter and the outside attorneys are suing.
Both sides denied wrongdoing.
The contract in question, signed almost a year ago, brought in former Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, the firms Whitten Burrage of Oklahoma City and Nix Patterson and Roach, a Texas-based company with an Oklahoma City office, as litigators in a suit brought by Hunter against the drug manufacturers.
In Tulsa and Oklahoma City news conferences Monday, Drummond questioned the terms of the contract and why it was awarded without a bidding process.
He also noted that Coffee, Reggie Whitten and Michael Burrage, and members of Whitten’s and Burrage’s families, made the maximum contributions to Hunter’s election campaign about the time the contract was signed.
“I maxed out and my wife did, and I was proud to do that,” said Whitten. “Hunter had courage to file that lawsuit because he knew pharma would come after him.”
Burrage and Whitten have been regular political contributors to candidates of both parties as well as to issues.
A news release by Hunter’s campaign called on Drummond to “disclose all of his ties to pharmaceutical companies,” and Whitten said in a telephone interview, “Big pharma would celebrate if this guy (Drummond) is elected.”
Drummond said in Tulsa on Monday that he supports the lawsuit and reiterated that later in the afternoon. His spokesman, Trebor Worthen, said Drummond does not accept contributions from “lobbyists and special interest groups, including pharmaceutical or opioid companies. ... He does not represent any such company in his legal practice, nor does he have any ties to them or interest in them.”
The contract with the law firms sets up a sliding contingency fee schedule that tops out at 25 percent of whatever is recovered, plus expenses, and goes down according to how the suit is resolved and the amount of the recovery.
Whitten said a $1 billion settlement would result in a fee of about 14 percent, which the defendants could be required to pay in addition to the settlement.
The law firms get nothing if the state loses the case.
The Attorney General’s Office said contracts such as the one in question do not have to be bid and that Whitten Burrage’s credentials make the law firm well-qualified for the job.
Burrage is a former federal judge, and Whitten has a long track record as a litigator. He also has a foundation dedicated to addiction treatment that is named for his son, Brandon, whose death in 2002 was related to drug and alcohol abuse.
Drummond said some sort of bid process should have been used, whether or not it is required, for a contract that could be worth many of millions of dollars to the law firms involved.