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August 20, 2019

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Nevada hires attorney general’s old firm for opioids lawsuit

Aaron Ford

John Locher / AP

In this Dec. 14, 2018, file photo, Nevada’s incoming Attorney General Aaron Ford speaks with the Associated Press in Las Vegas.

Updated Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | 9:50 p.m.

Nevada's attorney general denied Wednesday that he had a hand in the hiring of his former law firm to represent the state in a high-profile and potentially lucrative lawsuit against the maker of the prescription opioid OxyContin.

Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford rejected a claim of cronyism from the Nevada Republican Party. He labeled a GOP call for him to undo the hiring of Eglet Prince as "absurd" and "inconsistent with the process and Nevada law."

Ford denied having a conflict of interest and said he stayed out of the process. He said state Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa picked the Las Vegas firm from among nine competitive bidders to represent the state.

Robert Eglet defended his firm's selection and dismissed the Republican criticism of Ford as "partisan politics."

"I got this contract because I'm the best to pursue this case, and my firm is the most qualified," he said after appearing in court Wednesday representing Clark County against multiple opioid manufacturers in a separate but similarly broad and complex lawsuit.

Eglet pointed to more than $1 billion in jury verdicts he obtained in several lawsuits against pharmaceutical and insurance companies for victims of a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas 2008.

He said he never before met six of the seven people on the board that vetted the contract applicants.

Eglet added that because he also represents several counties and Nevada's four largest cities in opioid manufacturer lawsuits, obtaining the state contract lets Nevada present "a unified front in the litigation."

Ford was a partner in Eglet Prince as recently as last year, after serving as Democratic majority leader of the state Senate.

Ford's office, which administers the state consumer advocate, announced Tuesday that Eglet Prince would "assist in the investigation and litigation of the manufacture, distribution, marketing and sale of opioids that have caused or contributed to Nevada's opioid epidemic."

"The opioid crisis has devastated our communities, and claimed the lives of too many Nevadans," Figueroa said in the announcement.

A Republican statement that quoted Will Sexauer, state GOP executive director, said Eglet Prince "will be paid handsomely for their service."

"This is what cronyism looks like and Ford should do the right thing and go with another firm," it said.

The Republicans also accused Ford of shaping a law during the 2017 Legislature that lets firms that contract with the state collect higher fees.

Eglet called that allegation untrue.

Nevada is among more than 40 U.S. states suing opioid manufacturers.

The state's civil lawsuit, filed in May 2018 in state court in Las Vegas, accuses Purdue Pharma LP of using deceptive marketing to boost drug sales that fueled opioid overdose deaths.

Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, denied the claims and is defending itself.

The company did not admit wrongdoing when it paid $19.5 million in 2007 to settle lawsuits with 26 states and the District of Columbia that accused it of aggressively marketing OxyContin to doctors while downplaying the risk of addiction. Nevada was part of that agreement.