Wood County Commission chooses firm for opioids lawsuit

Wood County Commissioners Bob Tebay, Jimmy Colombo and Blair Couch announced they will be joining with the Ford Law Office of Clarksburg, which is working with Marc J. Bern & Partners of New York in a lawsuit being drawn up against opioid manufacturers and distributors. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission is going with a Clarksburg law firm with ties to a firm with officies nationally to be part of a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

The commission announced Monday it will be joining with the Ford Law Office of Clarksburg, which is working with Marc J. Bern & Partners of New York in a lawsuit they are drawing up.

Three law firms recently made presentations to the Wood County Commission on why the county should sign with them to represent the county in lawsuits against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications. They allege that the companies have brought a far larger number of pills into the state than is needed for its population. This has led to the large number of addictions, overdose deaths and the state’s opioid crisis, they said.

Commission President Blair Couch, citing a 2016 report from the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency, said Wood County ranked fifth in the state with 27,829,000 pills dispensed between 2007-2012.

”Based on our population, that is a pretty big number,” Couch said.

Kanawha County was first with 66 million pills dispensed, Cabell County was second with 40 million, Logan County was third with 35 million and Mingo County was fourth with 32 million.

Other counties comparable to Wood County were Raleigh and Harrison counties with 27 million pills dispensed each, Couch said.

”We saw excellent presentations from three law firms,” Couch said.

The other law firms presenting were the Fitzsimmons Law Firm of Wheeling and Hill, Carper, Bee & Deitzler of Charleston. The Chafin Law Firm of Williamson, W.Va., sent in a proposal for the county to consider.

All of the law firms had fees that resulted in around 25 percent of any judgment or settlement. Some included their expenses in that while others had expenses paid on top of that fee, Couch said.

Bern told the commission last week their fee is a straight fee of 25 percent of any judgment or settlement, including expenses.

”This is the one,” Couch said.

Couch said, for him, it was the fact Bern had lost his son to an overdose through opioid addiction that was a deciding factor.

”I think this is personal to him, very much so,” he said. ”We wanted an attorney with more in the game than just a dollar amount. I feel he has more of a personal connection to this than anyone else.”

Commissioner Bob Tebay said all of the law firms were qualified, but in the end it is about helping the county.

”It is not about the money,” he said. ”It is about getting rid of the nuisance of opioids.”

Couch said they can see how the problem is impacting the county with overdose deaths and addiction issues as well as having an effect on the county’s increasing jail bill.

”It is a scourge and it has hit families from every community in Wood County,” he said. ”Everyone has had someone they are close to that has had an issue they have either overcome or they have succumbed to it. There has been harm done to our county that has impacted our budget.”

Any money resulting from this lawsuit would be put toward drug education and treatment, the commission said.

”We have to get these funds to do these things,” Couch said.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo said the majority of prisoners they are sending to the North Central Regional Jail are for drug-related offenses.

”This has been a huge impact to everyone’s pocket in Wood County,” he said. ”It is harmful to the county to have to spend over $2 million a year just to cover that.”

The commission notified Bern of its selection over the telephone.

”We will do the best job possible for you,” Bern said over the phone. ”I am totally committed to this.”

He will be drawing up a resolution detailing the impact the opioid crisis has had on Wood County.

The commission is expected to take action on it Thursday.