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County backs away from opioid lawsuit
county opioid lawsuit
Lisa Hobbs photo The Warren County Commission wont be considering a measure to pursue an opioid lawsuit during its monthly session later this month. The county Budget and Finance Committee rescinded a prior decision to send the measure forward. Pictured, from left, are Commissioners Carl E. Bouldin, Michael Martin, Diane Starkey, Gary Prater and Terry Bell.

One month after Warren County government tentatively stepped into the opioid lawsuit ring, it is bowing out.

The county Budget and Finance Committee voted to hold off on an agreement with Galligan & Newman, Attorneys at Law to represent the county in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Committee members are waiting on a judge’s ruling that could make or break a similar lawsuit filed by District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis.

Leading to the reversal was information presented by county attorney Larry Stanley and assistant attorney Robert Bratcher on Monday. They said two types of lawsuits are being filed in Tennessee: lawsuits filed by district attorneys representing their counties, and private lawsuits filed by government entities for their communities.

At this time, said Bratcher, there are 31 district attorneys in Tennessee and 14 are participating in opioid litigation cases seeking to obtain, among other items, monetary damages related to government entities such as increased law enforcement costs, ambulance costs, etc.

“We are in a strange situation of basically having a lawsuit brought for us by our DAs and then considering to file a second lawsuit,” Bratcher said. “As far as we can determine, this type of litigation brought by the DAs has never happened before. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Some judge is going to have to tell us.”

One will.

“The lead case that was filed in Kingsport has been under attack and is under attack as we sit here tonight,” Bratcher said. “There is some question whether or not the DAs have standing to begin litigation. The judge who is hearing this has it under advisement and will make a ruling any day. We don’t know what day, but it will be soon. Based on what happens there, those cases will either proceed with them representing us or not.”

Approximately six months ago, Zavogiannis signed with a Nashville firm of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings with the intention of representing her 31st Judicial District of Warren and Van Buren counties in state court.

If Warren County commissioners sign with Galligan & Newman, it would be one of only two counties to have both lawsuits going at the same time. Green County filed a private lawsuit Jan. 4 after its district attorney did.

“I haven’t been asked but one of the paths you can follow would be to wait and see what happens with the district attorney’s litigation,” said Bratcher. “That’s imminent. Whatever it is, yes, you can continue to represent your county or no, you can’t, we are going to know that pretty soon. Probably within a matter of days. At that time, you can take another look at it.”

Budget and Finance Committee members voted unanimously to rescind January’s decision to send the measure to the full Warren County Commission.