ROGERSVILLE – Hawkins County officials are expected to hold a closed attorney / client session in May or June to discuss settlement negotiations on the county’s pending opioid lawsuit.
Greeneville attorney Crystal Jessee, whose law firm is representing Jessee and Jessee Hawkins Counties in this lawsuit, spoke to the county commission Monday about the upcoming negotiations and a solicitation the commission received from another attorney representing the county wanted to.
A resolution was presented to the commission on Monday calling on the Nashville law firm Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings to represent the county in an opioid lawsuit. However, on the advice of Jessee, the proposal was withdrawn from consideration.
Hawkins County’s opioid lawsuit was filed in 2017
In 2017, the Hawkins County Commission agreed to authorize Jessee and Jessee to file a harassment suit on behalf of the county in Knox County Federal Court to seek damages from companies that wholesale opioids in Hawkins County.
The lawsuit asserts damage based on the Substances and Abuse Act of 1970, which requires drug dealers to tag and label irregular sales patterns.
Jessee told the commission in 2017 that out of 95 counties in Tennessee, Hawkins has the 25th highest harm caused by opioid addiction, according to research. Campbell County is number 1.
If the lawsuit is successful, Jessee and Jessee will receive 30% of the amount awarded to Hawkins County, plus expenses.
Crystal Jessee told the commission on Monday that she had sent a letter to the county mayor Jim Lee in December stating that she would have a closed attorney / client meeting with the commission before June to review the to discuss possible settlement negotiations.
Jessee said she did not know these letters had not been forwarded to the commissioners, but in the future she will also be sending communications to the commissioners.
“Stop soliciting our customers”
In 2017, Branstetter, Stranch, and Jennings filed a separate lawsuit against prescription narcotics manufacturers on behalf of Northeast Tennessee Attorneys General Barry Staubus, Tony Clark and Dan Armstrong.
The order submitted to the commission on Monday called for the county to keep Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings as attorneys and be named plaintiffs in this lawsuit in order to receive 25% of whatever the county wins.
No representatives from Branstetter, Stranch or Jennings were present at Monday’s meeting.
“This lawsuit will do nothing but harm the county,” Jessee told the commission. “… You all voted to continue with us. We filed the lawsuit on your behalf in federal court against the dealers and manufacturers. “
Jessee added, “In 2017 we told Mr. (Dan) Armstrong that he would not be able to prevail on this case. In December 2020, they dismissed his lawsuit. What you have done now has gone to 13 of the districts we represent and asked you to sign this contract. Last Thursday, Mr. Stranch called our company and asked him to allow it. I sent him a cease and desist letter specifically telling him to stop soliciting our customers. “
“Why should you hire two companies to pave the same road?”
Jessee noted that Branstetter, Stranch, and Jennings are planning to sue Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Endo International, and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals on behalf of Hawkins County, but Jessee and Jessee have already done so.
Purdue and Mallinckrodt have filed for bankruptcy in New York, and Jessee and Jessee have hired attorneys there to file for bankruptcy on behalf of Hawkins County.
“He (Stranch) only remains the lawsuit against Endo,” Jessee told the commission. “The state’s Supreme Court has told him that he cannot go forward on counties. So now Mr. Stranch has lost. “
Jessee said she was negotiating with Endo. If the county signs with Branstetter, Stranch, and Jennings, Jessee and Jessee will receive 30% of the settlement under their 2017 contract and 25% to Stranch.
“Why should you hire two companies to pave the same road?” She asked. “Let’s do the job and let him sit over there and get 25% – that doesn’t make sense to me.”
Jessee noted that at the Commission’s request, her 2017 contract had agreed not to sue local pharmacies and to compensate the county in the event of counterclaims. These provisions were not included in the stranch contract.
After hearing Jessee’s presentation and on the advice of District Attorney Jim Phillips, Commissioner Mark DeWitte, who introduced the resolution, agreed to withdraw it.