Photo: Steve Heap/

The Broward County Commission approved a team of five law firms to pursue litigation against pharmaceutical companies over their alleged role in the opioid crisis.

The team of outside counsel chosen Tuesday is composed of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm, Kopelowitz Ostrow Ferguson Weiselberg Gilbert, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Morgan & Morgan and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd. The attorneys will represent the county and the city of Fort Lauderdale.

“We’re honored to have been selected by Broward County to represent it in this historic undertaking and look forward to playing a part with it in hopefully crafting a solution to what is an epidemic that has had disastrous impact on all of our communities,” said Kopelowitz Ostrow shareholder Bobby Gilbert of Coral Gables. 

The group emphasized its local ties, its diversity and the fact that three of its lawyers serve as plaintiffs leadership for the opioid multidistrict litigation consolidated in Ohio. The three are Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser in San Francisco, Paul Geller of Robbins Geller in Boca Raton, and James Young of Morgan & Morgan in Jacksonville.

Lieff Cabraser and Robbins Geller were initially on a competing team, but the groups merged to have a better shot, Gilbert said. Lieff Cabraser does not have a Florida office, while Robbins Geller is a national firm with a Boca Raton location. The other three firms all have Fort Lauderdale offices.

“What we brought to the table were extensive local contacts, deep roots in Broward County, deep connections to county agencies and to the people of Florida in general,” Gilbert said. “What our new partners in the team brought were national prominence at the highest caliber.”

Both of the other teams who fought for the commission’s vote also included MDL plaintiffs’ leadership. Motley Rice, Gelber Schachter & Greenberg, and Colson Hicks Eidson made up one team and Simmons Hanly Conroy, Crueger Dickinson, and von Briesen & Roper was the other.

The contract will include a contingency arrangement that caps attorney fees at 25 percent of the net recovery, according to the county. The team will also advance the expenses of the litigation, which will be repaid only out of any financial recovery, among other contract terms.

Broward County will decide where to file the litigation, but it will likely be filed in federal court and become part of the MDL, Gilbert said.

The county intends to sue the same pharmaceutical companies defending opioid litigation around the country, Kopelowitz Ostrow shareholder Scott Weiselberg said. Those typically include Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Endo Health Solutions Inc.

The county will also likely go after opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, Weiselberg said. 

The county attorney’s office met with 12 proposed legal teams before whittling the list to three. The office ranked the shortlist, giving the top spot to the team that was ultimately accepted by the commission.

Along with MDL experience and a local presence, the office considered each team’s history of working together, Senior Assistant County Attorney Angela Benjamin said.

“They were all stellar,” Benjamin said. “If you look at the reputations and resumes of any of the members of the teams that were or were not selected, they were all very impressive and highly qualified. So I think with any team, the county is poised to have excellent representation on this matter.”