Commissioners Asked to Join Opioid Suit
MIDDLEBOURNE – John Turak of the law firm Gold, Khoury and Turak presented a proposal to the Tyler County Commission that asked them to join in with five other counties in the northern panhandle in a legal action by their law firm in partnership with Fitzsimmons Law firm in Wheeling and the Guida law office in Weirton. The lawsuit would allow them to represent the counties in a suit against the distributors of opioid pain pills throughout the state.
“We handed out a packet to you today and I know some of you have already talked to Tyler County Prosecutor Luke Furbee about it, but we’re here today to determine if the commission wants to retain us to represent them in this legal action that is designed to assist with the opioid problem we are all to familiar with. Obviously the purpose of doing this would be in filing such an action to assist in trying to curb what we’re experiencing in our communities,” said Turak during the Jan. 25 commission meeting.
Turak said the action would be a way for the counties to try and recover the resources they have used to try and combat the problem. He said he has had a lot of experience in litigation and “as we all know, we are in the mist of an epidemic of near crisis, unfortunately.”
Turak said when he started practicing law, he did a lot of court appointed criminal work and he used to come out to Tyler County on occasion. Back then, he said, Middlebourne was a sleepy little town with not a lot going on in terms of criminal activity like what he experienced in Marshall county. He said he also did a lot of work in Ohio County and of course Ohio was more of the center of criminal activity back then and Marshall county,which was smaller, less than Ohio county, and than there was Wetzel and Tyler.
He said he remembers talking to the sheriff back then when they had only two deputies and he was talking to the new Tyler County Sheriff Brian Weigle earlier today and was told there are eight or nine deputies now and he’s sure that with the amount of criminal activity eight or nine isn’t enough.
“So we know we’re in the mist of a crisis,” Turak said. “Tyler county is experiencing overdose cases equal to Ohio County in proportion to population and it is unfortunate coming from an urban area. We never thought we would experience it at the rate that it’s occurring in these urban communities.”
Turak said it is not just a problem that is isolated to larger areas because it has spread to the entire state.
“So obviously what happened is the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the same individuals that we propose to file a lawsuit against,” he said. “They have already uncovered most of the facts and have gotten substantial money back for the state and we think the same opportunity exists for the local counties by engaging in the same type of litigation to try and recover some of the resources that you have otherwise had to spend in and effort to deal with the opiod epidemic.”
Turak said he believes that the Mountain State has been targeted and used as a dumping ground for a lot of these opioid users and the rate of use in our state compared with the level five years ago is even four to five times greater than it was previously.
“We know that unfortunately here in West Virginia we suffer to an even greater extent than the rest of the nation,” he said. “Because of the nature of our communities and the type of activities we engage in, we’re more susceptible. Most people in this state earn their wages by using their backs. We are farming communities, coal mine communities, hard working people who work hard and they get hurt, they’re injured and they go to the doctors and they get targeted. Unfortunately what happens is they start taking these medications, they get addicted or if they don’t get addicted the medicine is in they’re medicine cabinets at home and the children get them and then the children get addicted and one thing leads to another and the next thing you know they’re breaking into homes and stealing cars and anything to feed they’re addiction.”
Mark Antonio of the Fitzsimmons law firm then spoke about the specifics of the law suit.
“Obviously our plan is to unify the six counties in the northern panhandle,” he said. “So we’ve already been in communication with all the other counties and we expect to be retained by Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel. We met with Wetzel yesterday and will be meeting with Marshall soon I think on February 11. We have talked with all the county commissioners and everybody seems to be on board. They seem to be favorably inclined to the idea pursuant to the action. We are prepared to answer any questions you as commissioners may have but any legal strategies or legal advice should be taken up in executive session.”
Commissioners questioned Turak as to what the fee would be. Turak explained it would be done on a contiguous fee of 25 percent plus costs and fees. However, he said if nothing was recovered it would cost the county nothing. County attorney and Tyler County Prosecutor Luke Furbee said he would like to discuss the fee arrangement with the group so the commissioners could be prepared to meet on the subject at the next commissioners meeting. All agreed and the meeting was adjourned.