In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt has signed House Bill 2751, which requires that settlements and judgments won by the attorney general’s office must be paid into the state’s general fund or to a state agency that is a party to the lawsuit in question.
It was a shot across the bow of Attorney General Mike Hunter for the way he handled a $270 million opioid lawsuit settlement with drug company Purdue Pharma this year. The biggest hunk of the Purdue settlement will go to fund a previously little-known opioid treatment center at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa. Leaders there say it could transform the program to international leadership in the field.
The Purdue settlement felt a lot like an appropriation to legislators who complained that they were kept in the dark about the deal before it was announced. Hunter replied the nature of negotiating settlements requires secrecy and that law and Oklahoma Supreme Court precedent have made it clear that he has the authority to file, pursue or settle lawsuits in the name of the state.
Days after Stitt signed the law, which took effect immediately, Hunter announced another settlement, this time with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceuticals, which has agreed to pay the state $85 million. The details of that settlement haven’t been released. In fact, Hunter’s press release says the two sides haven’t worked out those details.
The settlement came on the eve of the state’s closely watched lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Only Johnson & Johnson and closely related companies were left in the case when the trial started Tuesday.
We hope Hunter was more transparent with lawmakers ahead of the Teva settlement and that its terms, when they are ultimately resolved, create fewer issues than the Purdue Pharma deal.
HB 2751 isn’t a great public policy. In an ideal world, the attorney general would have the freedom to work a deal in the best interest of the state; by limiting his freedom, we give negotiating advantage to the other side. But the message the bill’s authors seem to be sending to Hunter is that his Purdue deal was far from ideal and may not be in the best interest of Oklahoma.