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Beshear denies involvement in state opioid settlement after being grilled by legislative panel

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear was grilled last week by lawmakers over a $24 million settlement against a pharmaceutical company even though he told them he had no involvement.

Former Demoractic Attorney General Jack Conway settled a lawsuit against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma in December 2015 just a few weeks before Beshear replaced Conway as attorney general. Beshear’s administration then paid a Kentucky law firm that later hired Conway more than $3 million for its work on the case.

Beshear said he did not approve the contract. Before taking office, Beshear worked for a law firm that represented Purdue Pharma. Beshear said he was not involved in that case, but decided as attorney general to recuse himself from anything involving the case to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Attorney General Andy Beshear is flanked by former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice John Roach and Beshear’’s HR director Holly McCoy-Johnson. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

Beshear was giving a presentation to the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee on the contract with four law firms to go after pharmaceutical companies and their distributors in the opioid crisis, but the subject quickly became Beshear and his role in the previous lawsuit.

Committee co-chair Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, and former law enforcement officer used his interrogation skills on Beshear. He asked him why Conway settled the case for $24 million days before he left office, when both he and former Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who filed the suit, said Kentucky could get a billion dollars from Purdue Pharma.

Beshear answered that the $24 million was more than the $20 million Canada received in its lawsuit, or the $10 million West Virginia settlement, or the $19.5 million reached in a settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia.

Carroll also questioned Beshear about his role in the suit while he was working at Stites and Harbison who represented the drug-maker.

“I was not a part of any settlement talks, I wasn’t part of the case at all,” he said.

Carroll then asked Beshear about the contract with an outside law firm to represent the Attorney General’s office in the Purdue Pharma case, which Beshear said he did not sign.

“Do you not have knowledge of what goes on in your office?” Carroll asked.

“I have knowledge about what goes on in my office, but I specifically made the decision to not be a part of anything having to do with Purdue,” Beshear said.

Beshear told the panel he had never seen a constitutional officer treated like he was at the meeting.

Carroll asked him numerous other questions about his former employer and for details of the Purdue Pharma case to which Beshear kept responding he was not involved in any way with the case while at the law firm and stayed away from it when he took office to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

After his appearance, Beshear told reporters he had come to the committee to talk about the opioid crisis but “certain members of the legislature are more interested in playing politics than in holding drug companies accountable. Shame on them.”

He said other lawmakers, including Republicans, were as stunned and uncomfortable as he was over the line of questioning.

“Drugs don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican, or an Independent, they’ll kill you just the same,” he said. “We’ve got to be united, and shame on those who won’t join us.

“We heard more conspiracy theories today than I think were included in the movie JFK,” Beshear said. “And to throw those around, when we’re dealing with the drug epidemic, is grossly irresponsible.”

He also accused the Finance and Administration Cabinet for not taking action after his contract was submitted. “Four people a day die of overdoses in Kentucky. Finance has let 21 days pass. Eighty-four people have died during that time.”

Following the meeting, Carroll hinted that Beshear will be back before the panel soon enough.

“This committee does have the authority to subpoena, and to put witnesses under oath,” he said. “There will be discussions within this committee as to whether or not to subpoena General Beshear to come back and finish answering the questions we have for him.”

During the meeting, Carroll, who is not a lawyer, asked Beshear several detailed questions about legal procedures. Since Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin have an ongoing feud, when asked if the Governor’s office assisted him, he replied, “In gathering information, yes, and the Justice Cabinet.”

Carroll said he had major concerns from the beginning about the settlement.

“I don’t have any aspirations for higher office, but I guess the investigator in me took over when I started looking into this. Twenty-four years in law enforcement tells me that there is a lot of suspicion here that needs to be followed up on.

“I think it’s important for the people of the Commonwealth to know all this. In the end, if everything comes out and it’s all a just coincidences, fine, we’ll move on.”

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