Las Vegas Sun

November 14, 2018

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EDITORIAL:

Laxalt wastes court’s time, taxpayer money on political grandstanding

The Nevada attorney general’s office has hit a low point with its appeal of the recent ruling blocking the execution of Scott Dozier.

Not only is its argument in the appeal cockamamie and demeaning, but the effort stinks of being a political play instead of a quest for justice.

Attorney General Adam Laxalt and his team are contending that the lawsuit that prompted the ruling was nothing more than a big public relations stunt by the drug company that brought it, Alvogen, which sued to prevent its drug midazolam from being used in Dozier’s execution.

The state’s cockeyed argument centers on controls that Alvogen imposed on the drug to prevent it from being used in executions. The AG’s office claims that when the Department of Corrections prepared to use the drug, which it had obtained through a third-party intermediary, Alvogen sued in order to shift blame for the company’s failure to impose the controls.

Alvogen had touted those controls to opponents of the death penalty, the state claims, and was seeking to “salvage its image.”

“For Alvogen (and similarly situated drug manufacturers), this lawsuit has little downside,” the state’s appeal reads. “Whether it ultimately wins or loses, Alvogen scores points in the public relations arena just for bringing this lawsuit. … Here, the District Court took the PR bait.”

Wrong.

Here’s why Alvogen sued: It was defending its moral choice to prevent midazolam from being used to kill people. The company was following the Hippocratic oath, not doing damage control on its image.

The drug, a sedative, has therapeutic uses that include helping people prepare for surgery and deal with insomnia. It wasn’t designed to be used as part of a mixture of drugs used in lethal injections, so it’s admirable for Alvogen to try to block its usage for capital punishment.

What’s more, midazolam has been used in a number of executions, and some of those were botched. Its effectiveness in lethal injections is questionable, which is another reason the company deserves credit for its controls.

In short, the company did the right thing, and so did Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez in ruling in the company’s favor just hours before Dozier’s lethal injection would have been administered.

Laxalt and his team should be ashamed of themselves for suggesting the company’s motives were bottom-line oriented.

The company was taking a principled stance. It would have been grossly irresponsible for Alvogen to stand by silently and allow the drug to be used to execute Dozier — just as it would be irresponsible for any drug company to tacitly allow the use of any medication for a purpose it wasn’t intended for, and in which it had shown questionable results.

You’d like to think the AG’s position would be the other way around — that the state would support principled drug manufacturers and crack back at companies that would not take responsibility for its products.

The state also expresses concern that if the ruling is allowed to stand, other companies that provide products used in capital punishment, such as syringes, might follow Alvogen’s lead and block executions via legal action.

That position is disturbing, as it would suggest the state would eliminate the right of companies to make a conscientious choice about helping put people to death.

The overall impression left by the appeal is that if anybody’s doing PR here, it appears to be the AG’s office. This appeal smells a lot like political grandstanding by Laxalt against a company that was making a quiet and respectable choice about one of its products.

In fighting for Dozier’s execution and going after a company he portrays as acting in the name of political correctness, Laxalt, the Republican candidate for governor, just so happens to be playing to his conservative base.

Granted, Laxalt can plausibly deny that the purpose of the appeal is anything more than pursuit of justice. Dozier was given the death penalty in 2007 after being convicted of a grisly murder in which the body of the victim, Jeremiah Miller, was dismembered. It was Dozier’s second murder conviction.

But instead of all the litigation, why not instead work to find the right method of execution for the right reasons?

That would be a better use of time and effort than dealing with this threadbare appeal.