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Judge says 'no' to request for expedited procedures in opioids lawsuit

An Oklahoma City federal judge on Monday once again rejected an emergency request by the state to expedite court proceedings on whether a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers should be transferred back to state court in Cleveland County.

Twice Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and his legal team asked U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange to expedite the legal review process. They said lives are at stake because Oklahomans continue to die every week from opioid drug overdoses.

Twice Judge Miles-LaGrange has rejected that request, saying the case raises "important and significant issues that require careful and thorough research and briefing to ensure a decision that is well-informed and well-reasoned."

In their second request, attorneys for the state suggested the judge could consider sending the case back to state court without requiring further legal proceedings.

The judge strongly rejected that suggestion, saying it would be "highly inappropriate and would violate traditional notions of due process" to send the case back to Cleveland County without giving attorneys for Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers a chance to present their arguments.

Attorneys for the state cautioned the judge that failure to act quickly could result in the case being taken out of her hands and consolidated with other cases overseen by a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio.

Judge Miles-LaGrange noted in her latest order that it's possible she could still decide to transfer the case back to Cleveland County after attorneys are given the customary amount of time to file legal briefings. Local federal court rules normally give attorneys 21 days to respond to a request to return a case to state court.

The state lawsuit against more than a dozen drug companies accuses them of contributing to the state's opioid epidemic by making fraudulent marketing claims that greatly understated the addictive risks of the painkillers while overstating their treatment benefits.

The lawsuit was on a fast track to go to trial in Cleveland County District Court in May 2019 when attorneys for the pharmaceutical companies unilaterally moved the case to federal court, contending there were important federal questions that needed to be resolved. The drug companies contended state attorneys were seeking to usurp federal law and U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations related to drug marketing disclosures.

State attorneys strongly objected to moving the case to federal court, contending the drug company attorneys were violating a written agreement not to try to move the case as long as the lawsuit wasn't amended.

They also suggested the Ohio federal judge overseeing consolidated legal proceedings against opioid manufacturers might not be impartial in deciding whether to transfer the case back to Cleveland County if the case were to be moved there.

Attorneys for the drug companies responded by accusing state attorneys of making a "patent attempt at judge shopping."

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›