Glenn Coffee
Former Oklahoma State Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee was hired as a consulting attorney for the state's lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. (NonDoc graphic)

(Editor’s note: This story was authored by Paul Monies of Oklahoma Watch and appears here in accordance with the non-profit journalism organization’s republishing terms.)

A key confidante of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has withdrawn as an outside attorney in the state’s ongoing opioid trial, saying his work on pretrial strategy and settlement discussions with drug companies had come to a close.

Attorney Glenn Coffee and his law firm were among three outside firms contracted on a contingency basis by Hunter’s office when Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against several opioid manufacturers in 2017. Lawyers on contingency take on the risk of litigation costs and only get paid from a settlement or victory at trial.

Oklahoma Watch earlier featured Coffee’s role in the case and his prior work in the Oklahoma Senate to limit contingency fee contracts in lawsuits.

Coffee filed a motion to withdraw from the case on June 7 and his request was granted by Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman.

In a June 4 letter to Hunter, Coffee said the litigation phase with the last remaining defendant, Johnson & Johnson, would be ably handled by the state’s other outside counsel and attorneys in Hunter’s office. The state’s trial against Johnson and Johnson started May 28 in Cleveland County.

“I was pleased to be able to lend my services in the development of the legal strategy for the initial filing and phases of the opioid lawsuit and to assist in the communication between several state agencies,” Coffee wrote in the letter. “And I am proud to have participated in negotiating the settlement agreements amounting to $335 million in benefits to the state of Oklahoma.”

Purdue Pharma settled with the state in March for $270 million, with about $200 million of that going to an opioid research and treatment program at Oklahoma State University. Teva Pharmaceuticals settled on the eve of trial for $85 million. Neither company admitted wrongdoing.

“Glenn’s expert legal knowledge and experience in difficult litigation was invaluable in crafting our case,” Hunter said in a statement Monday. “I also appreciate his leadership and invaluable assistance in our settlement negotiations and getting this important case ready for trial. Glenn is a trusted colleague and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

Under its contract with the state for the opioid litigation, Coffee’s law firm gets 10 percent of any awarded attorney fees. The Texas-based Nix Patterson firm gets 57 percent, while Whitten Burrage gets 33 percent.

Of the $270 million Purdue settlement, Nix Patterson received $31.6 million, Whitten Burrage got $18.3 million and Glen Coffee & Associates got $5.6 million. The details of the Teva settlement have yet to be disclosed, but the opioid contingency contract calls for attorney fees of 15 percent if the total of all settlements is between $200 million and $500 million.