The national organization of attorneys general has turned into a shady litigation factory
JThe National Association of Attorneys General has recently come under scrutiny for its funding sources. Apart from dues paid by state attorneys general, the organization also receives funds from litigation settlements, calling into question the organization’s non-profit status given that it appears to operate more like a law firm. plaintiffs’ lawyers.
the The American Tort Reform Association has now released a report highlighting these links and calling for more transparency from the organization.. Historically, NAAG has played an influential role in managing multi-state investigations and prosecutions. But over time, NAAG’s focus shifted from promoting efficiency and coordination to promoting corporate litigation targeting industries of all kinds.
Over the past several decades, NAAG has played a significant role in some of the most significant mass tort lawsuits. Its targets include tobacco companies and, more recently, opioid manufacturers and distributors. NAAG fully participates in settlements reached in these multi-state lawsuits, as do individual states and their for-profit, contingency-fee attorneys. This puts what was once an independent association in a position where it now appears to have profit as the overriding motive when helping to initiate and resolve litigation, much as the trial bar does.
Given that the most recent target of the NAAG litigation machine has been the manufacturers and distributors of opioids, it is important to note that bad actors must be held accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. But that begs the question: Are these attorneys general targeting the wrong people and companies for the benefit of the bar and their own coffers? For example, in In March 2021, NAAG received $15 million as part of McKinsey’s $600 million settlement for the company’s role in the marketing of opioid prescriptions.
It’s not just one party, either – opioid lawsuits are being brought by NAAG members of all political stripes, like Democratic Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and by attorneys general Republicans Ashley Moody in Florida and Patrick Morrisey in West Virginia. It should be noted that Moody holds a leadership role within NAAG. This calls into question states’ motivations for pursuing litigation rather than addressing the real problem – the illicit drug crisis at our country’s border that is fueling the opioid epidemic and ravaging their respective states.
Moreover, both Morrisey and Ferguson withdrew from settlements reached between virtually all states and manufacturers in order to go to court. This raises the question of whether the trial bar and outside attorneys used by these attorneys general could influence these decisions. After all, personal injury attorneys regularly attend NAAG meetings and participate in educating and training attorneys general on litigation best practices. This created an apparent codependent relationship between the trial bar and these elected officials. These training sessions illustrate just how influential NAAG is as attorneys general decide whether to pursue lawsuits against industries in their respective states.
Outside groups seeking to influence by onboarding and paying the salaries of activist attorneys in the offices of state attorneys general and other government offices are nothing new, but this practice is another issue that should be further investigated. For example, Michael Bloomberg non-profit organisation gained attention in 2020 for his role in integrating lawyers into the staff of Attorney General’s offices for the specific purpose of bringing environmental and climate change prosecutions, a practice that continues today today.
Now, The NAAG is moving in the same direction as it promotes coordinated mass tort litigation. NAAG members participate in task forces that focus on potential lawsuits in multiple states. Their activities include information-sharing agreements between state attorney general’s offices as well as monthly phone calls to discuss investigations. NAAG then offers “lead” states the ability to recruit other states to join in specific litigation. Finally, NAAG provides grants to states to help litigation get started. This way, the attorneys general do not have to use the earmarked funds, making them accountable to their respective legislatures.
Outside influence, whether from the NAAG or other activist organizations, creates a disturbing lack of accountability and transparency in the offices of the state attorney general. This disturbing trend should be of concern not only to companies and industries that may be targets of such litigation, but also to anyone who cares about good governance and transparency.
Sherman “Tiger” Joyce is president of the American Tort Reform Association.