Drugmakers Seek to Disqualify Counsel in Opioid Lawsuit

Drugmakers Seek to Disqualify Counsel in Opioid Lawsuit Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ Linda Singer.

Purdue Pharma L.P. and two affiliated companies are seeking to disqualify a former District of Columbia attorney general from representing the city of Chicago in its lawsuit against several drugmakers for allegedly seeking to misinform the public about the risks and benefits of opium-like pain medications.

According to Purdue, attorney Linda Singer and her law firm law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll should be disqualified because Singer served as attorney general between Jan. 2, 2007, and Jan. 5, 2008. The District and 26 other jurisdictions reached a $19.5 million settlement with Purdue over the marketing of OxyContin on May 8, 2007, the drugmakers said.

“Those responding to government inquiries should not be left to ‘wonder whether the agency attorney investigating his case will one day turn out to represent the plaintiff’ in a lawsuit concerning the same issues,” the defendants said, citing the D.C. Court of Appeals’ 1982 decision in Kessenich v. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Now Singer and her law firm have been retained on a contingent basis to represent the city against the Purdue defendants regarding the marketing of OxyContin during the same time period as was covered by the 2007 case, the drugmakers said.

According to Purdue, Singer’s representation of Chicago violates Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1, which bars a former government attorney from representing a “client in connection with a matter in which the lawyer participated personally and substantially as a public officer or employee.”

Singer personally and substantially participated in the older lawsuit by approving the consent judgment, the defendants argued. She was briefed on the settlement more than a month before any court filings were made; edited the proposed press release about the consent judgment; and lobbied to increase the statutory caps on D.C.’s consumer protection fund to accommodate the $950,000 the District recovered in the lawsuit, the pharmaceutical companies said.

Singer also has entered a contingent-fee agreement with Santa Clara and Orange counties in California to pursue a similar lawsuit.
Patrick Fitzgerald and R. Ryan Stoll of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom in Chicago filed Purdue’s motion.

Amaris Elliott-Engel is a contributor to law.com.