Arizona now has misgivings about Purdue opioid settlement

FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2019, file photo, cars pass Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Attorneys general representing nearly half the states and lawyers for more than 500 local governments on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 blasted the terms of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s offer to settle thousands of lawsuits over the toll of the nation’s opioids crisis. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

By GEOFF MULVIHILL Associated Press
Arizona’s attorney general is having misgivings about agreeing to Purdue Pharma’s proposal to settle litigation over the opioid crisis.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said in a court filing late Monday that the OxyContin maker has “sought to undermine material terms of the deal.”
He did not specify how he alleges the company has done that.
But in a statement Tuesday, Brnovich said, “It’s in everyone’s best interest to secure a just and timely settlement. Purdue and the Sackler family need to take responsibility for their role in the opioid crisis.”
Brnovich agreed to the Purdue settlement right before the company filed for bankruptcy protection as part of its settlement deal. The states that agreed to the deal, which could be worth $12 billion over time, were not supposed to object to the company’s request to halt litigation against it and members of the Sackler family that own the Stamford, Connecticut-based firm.
Purdue has said in court that the Sacklers may not be able or willing to kick in the $3 billion to $4.5 billion they’ve agreed to pay in the settlement if they must continue to face litigation across the country.
Purdue declined to comment on the Arizona filing, as did the office of the attorney general for Texas, which played a key role in reaching the settlement.
Brnovich has not gone as far as backing out of the tentative settlement. His spokesman, Ryan Anderson, said the state is “not interested in renegotiating terms that we’ve already agreed upon.”
He made waves in July, when he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to find that some of the Sackler money was fraudulently transferred from Purdue and to force family members to return it to the company so it could be part of any settlement with or judgment against the company.
The court has not said whether it will consider the request. Brnovich said in his court filing that an order from the bankruptcy court should not stop the nation’s top court from considering that.
Last week, the attorneys general for the 24 states that declined to sign onto the settlement told a judge that suits against Sackler family members should not be stopped, as did lawyers representing more than 500 local and tribal governments across the country.
The company replied on Tuesday, arguing that letting the states’ suits against the Sacklers keep going would irreparably deplete assets that would be used in the settlement because the company is averaging $2 million a week in legal and other costs related in those lawsuits. By contrast, it said the states would face little harm if their lawsuits were to be paused for nine months. “The Objecting States should not be rewarded for pursuing dilatory, value-destroying tactics that threaten the success of these proceedings,” Purdue said in its filing.
If approved, the settlement could end more than 2,600 lawsuits against the company over the toll of opioids.
The objectors say the proposed settlement would not do enough to hold members of the Sackler family accountable. Several have also said the amount the family has agreed to pay as part of the deal is not enough.
A court filing last week said the family had been paid $12 billion to $13 billion by the company. A lawyer for some family members noted that the amount was lower than that after taxes and reinvestment.
Also on Tuesday, a Massachusetts judge denied a request by Purdue, members of the Sackler family and others who have been executives or board members for the company to dismiss that state’s lawsuit. But if Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain sides with Purdue, that suit and others like it could be halted.
Critics of the settlement have also objected to the company’s request to pay $38 million in bonuses and severance packages for employees. Amid the objections, the company has asked a judge not to consider that request at a hearing scheduled for Thursday but rather to wait until next month.
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This story has been corrected to show that Purdue is asking for a hearing on bonuses for its employees to be moved to next month, not next week.