In the wake of controversy surrounding Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s settlement with opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, the Legislature has advanced a bill clarifying the AG’s responsibilities when entering into settlements.
HB 2751 unanimously passed the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget 28-0 and the Senate JCAB 19-0 on Monday afternoon. The bill adds new language into Title 74 that stipulates a duty of the attorney general:
To settle, compromise and dispose of an action in which the attorney general represents the interests of the state, so long as the consideration negotiated for such settlement, compromise or disposition is payable to the state or one of its agencies which is a named part of the action and any monies, any property or other item of value is paid first to the State Treasury.
“This bill clarifies the attorney general’s responsibilities to pay into the State Treasury the proceeds of any settlement or judgement when the state is a named party in the action,” Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) said after his bill advanced. “As (settlements are) state property, the Legislature believes that it is their constitutional responsibility to appropriate litigation proceeds consistent with the needs of all Oklahomans.”
Alex Gerszewski, Hunter’s communications director, said the AG’s office had no comment on HB 2751.
Background on controversial AG settlement
Lawmakers in both parties raised concerns earlier in session about Hunter’s settlement with Purdue Pharma, in particular his unilateral agreement with the company to direct its payments to a new center for addiction treatment at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
Legislators pointed to existing language in Title 74 that directed Hunter “to pay into the State Treasury, immediately upon its receipt, all monies received by the attorney general belonging to the state.”
Hunter defended the settlement by saying the company had threatened bankruptcy and thus had leverage with Oklahoma, functionally the first plaintiff in line for a series of lawsuits against Purdue. The company produces Oxycontin, a synthetic opioid that attorneys, states and medical experts say the company knew was clearly addictive.
Hunter has said he would involve the Legislature proactively in other potential settlements against other opioid lawsuit defendants. The state’s trial against remaining defendants is slated to start May 28 in Norman. Those interested in watching the trial can learn more here.