Vegas firm sues China on behalf of small businesses, accusing country of ‘cover-up’ that fostered coronavirus spread

A Las Vegas law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against China, alleging the country is part of a “totalitarian government system” that engaged in a cover-up after learning about the virus, allowing it to spiral out of control and wreak havoc in the U.S.

The complaint was filed late Monday in federal court in Nevada on behalf of American small businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Law firm Eglet Adams said the country’s actions when it learned of the dangers of the virus in the fall contributed to its spread around the world and economic losses in the U.S. that could mount to trillions of dollars.

“The People’s Republic of China and other defendants intentionally misled the international community about the coronavirus and its devastating medical and economic effects,” said lawyer Robert Eglet. “It is believed that defendants intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers and ordered the destruction of medical testing data which would have exposed defendants’ attempted cover-up.”

Other defendants include the governments of the city of Wuhan, the province of Hubei, the national health commission of China and various ministries within the Chinese government. Officials from the Chinese International Press Center and embassy did not immediately respond to messages Tuesday afternoon seeking comment from the Chinese government.

In a press conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Eglet argued there were a series of actions taken by the Chinese government since mid-November that involved “exaggerating good news while suppressing bad news.”

Eglet accused government officials of underreporting early deaths in Wuhan, ordering patient data from the city to be destroyed after it was sent to genomics companies, censoring social media reports of the disease, ousting journalists and ordering them to delete footage of hospitals and downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

He said government officials misled people by describing the condition as pneumonia and failed to shut down large gatherings, allowing 40,000 families to gather for a potluck in Wuhan in mid-January in spite of health concerns. That conduct prevented the containment of the virus, he said.

“Defendants’ conduct has set off an unprecedented worldwide pandemic which has caused panic, illness, deaths and a … financial meltdown that may result in a global recession worse than the Great Depression,” Eglet said.

In an email sent Wednesday, a spokesperson for the People's Republic of China's U.S. embassy said the country has been sharing information with other countries about the outbreak in an "open, transparent and responsible manner."

" Regarding the case you mentioned in Nevada State, we have not got any relevant documents from plaintiffs," a spokesperson for the embassy said in an email. "We want to point out that those allegations are based on rumors and totally unfounded. This case is definitely a malicious and frivolous lawsuit."

The lawyer said that China had an obligation to be transparent about the disease and not suppress information about it because of its membership in the World Health Organization and as a party in international trade agreements.

“American small businesses are not just gonna stand by and idly let this kind of carnage and damage happen to them because of the Chinese government’s irresponsibility,” Eglet said.

Nevada-based plaintiffs include restaurant proprietor Bella Vista LLC, floral company Greenfield & Company Inc., Life Real Estate LLC and Mobile Medic CPR.

Eglet is known for major lawsuits including an ongoing one against opioid manufacturers on behalf of the state and political subdivisions, as well as one against pharmaceutical companies after a hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada colonoscopy clinics a more than a decade ago.

He acknowledged that the lawsuit against China could carry on for years but “we’re in it for the long haul.” Although he says he expects China to argue on the basis of sovereign immunity, Eglet said he believes China’s conduct falls into an exception category under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976.

He noted that the lawsuit was against the Chinese government, not Chinese people, who he said were victims of the government’s conduct. That aligns with a statement from Gov. Steve Sisolak last week that urged Nevadans to support Asian-American communities that have been “unfairly stigmatized and harmed by misconceptions and misinformation about the virus.”

“American Chinese and the people of China are not to blame for China’s government’s misdeeds,” Eglet said.

Lawsuit Against China - Cor... by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Updated at 5:15 p.m. to add a response from the People's Republic of China's U.S. embassy.

Indy 2020: Candidate visits in the new year, a finalized presidential preference card and musings on nonpartisans

Your Nevada 2020 election newsletter. Please read, forward and subscribe.


Good morning, and welcome to Indy 2020, a biweekly newsletter focused on the 2020 presidential election in Nevada. A reminder that email subscribers get early access to this newsletter, so be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. It’ll be peachy.

Happy New Year! Though it feels like it has been 2020 for ages now, it is in fact only seven days into the year — and 46 days until the Jellicle Ball, er… Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucus.

Who will they vote for? Will it be Jennyanydots? Gus? Mr. Mistoffelees? Grizabella?

I continue to make no apologies for liking “Cats.” (Though I’d say “Dark Waters” or “Little Women” were still probably my favorite holiday watches.)

As always, a reminder to reach out to me with any tips, story ideas, comments, suggestions and your predictions of who’s going to the Heaviside Layer at megan@thenvindy.com.

Without further ado, a download of the recent 2020 happenings in Nevada.


TOP OF MIND

Nevada’s presidential preference card is set: The Nevada State Democratic Party announced last week the candidates who filed to appear on the presidential preference card for the state’s Feb. 22 caucus. They are: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, self-help author Marianne Williamson and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the only Democratic presidential hopeful to not file — in line with his strategy to skip campaigning in the four early voting states. A spokeswoman told the AP that the campaign has “enormous respect for the Democratic primary process and many friends in those states, but we are running a broad-based, national campaign to beat Donald Trump and win in November.”

Biden’s Nevada bundlers: Two days after Christmas, the former vice president released a list of more than 200 donors who have raised at least $25,000 for his campaign, known as bundlers. His Nevada bundlers include William Hill US CEO Joseph Asher, prominent personal injury attorney Robert Eglet (who hosted a fundraiser for Biden in Las Vegas in December), Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group Senior Managing Partner Thomas Kaplan, businesswoman Heather Murren (wife of MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren) and Dr. Rachakonda Prabhu, a pulmonologist in Las Vegas.

New TV ads in Nevada: Patrick, still a newcomer in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, went up with his first television and digital ad in Nevada and three other early states on Monday. Per this tweet from CNN’s David Wright, the buy in Nevada is very very very small — $167,990 total, with $100,000 in New Hampshire, $60,000 in South Carolina, and the rest split between Iowa and New Hampshire. In the 30-second ad, which you can see here, Patrick makes the argument that it’s “not too late to save the American dream” — or, by extension, support him. (Patrick says he jumped in the race late because of his wife’s cancer diagnosis, something the two of them explain on-camera in the ad.)

Steyer launched a new immigration-focused ad in Nevada on Tuesday, featuring a clip of him speaking on the issue at the December Democratic debate.

“I think it’s important to note that this president is not against immigration,” Steyer says in the ad. “He’s against immigration of non-white people.”

Buttigieg is also going up with a new statewide TV ad on cable on Tuesday focusing on his “Medicare for all who want it” alternative to a single-payer health care system. His first Nevada ad started running in December.

Klobuchar is the first candidate to visit Nevada in 2020: Klobuchar attended three events across Nevada on Saturday. She hosted meet and greets in Minden at the Douglas County Dems Office, at the Sundance Bookstore in Reno and at her campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.

In a gaggle after her Las Vegas event, I asked Klobuchar what her path to victory here looks like. (She’s been polling around 2 and 3 percent here, while she’s been slowly trending upwards in the high single digits in Iowa.)

“The path to victory is what we're seeing all over the country, and that is we're seeing more and more support,” Klobuchar said. “We had our first double digit national poll. I'm well aware that I am not as well known as some of the other candidates in this race, especially in this state, and that means I need to increase my name identification, I need to get out there. That's what we're doing today.”

It will be interesting to see how Klobuchar fares in Nevada in the next couple of weeks now that she has a team on the ground and is building momentum in Iowa. Two women who braved the brisk, 57-degree Las Vegas afternoon to hear Klobuchar speak told me they’re interested in the Minnesota senator, though neither has committed yet to a candidate.

Ann Marie Bleach, a 77-year-old from Las Vegas, told me that she started off backing Warren, switched to Buttigieg, went back to Warren and is now leaning toward Klobuchar.

“She has a very good message,” Bleach told me.

Linda Switzer, who works for Wynn Macau and lives in Summerlin, was also open to Klobuchar but said that right now the only one she thinks can beat President Donald Trump is Biden.

“I will do anything in my power to take this man out of office,” she said.

Both said that a candidate’s ability to defeat Trump will be the deciding factor in their caucus votes.

I also met a committed Klobuchar supporter, Aaron Sroka, a doctor from Las Vegas. He told me that he prefers a moderate candidate and thinks she’s done well on the debate stage. Biden, he said, has “a lot of baggage, unfortunately” and that Trump would “kill him because of Hunter (Biden),” the former vice president’s son. He said that Buttigieg is “okay, but he has no national experience,” and ruled out Warren and Sanders early, in part because of their support for Medicare for all.

“They don’t understand a lot of stuff,” Sroka told me. “You can’t dump the system all of a sudden.”

The might of the nonpartisans: As the boss reported on Twitter over the weekend, Republicans are now a smaller group in Clark County than nonpartisans (independents) and those registered with smaller political parties combined. As of noon on Monday, there were 460,352 Democrats, 318,880 Republicans, and 319,176 nonpartisans/others, according to the Clark County Election Department’s website.

Republicans still have the edge in Washoe County, though. As of Jan. 2, there were 102,319 Republicans in Washoe, 98,823 Democrats, and 79,773 nonpartisans/others, according to the Washoe County Registrar of Voters website.

The secretary of state also reported last week statewide voter registration numbers: 602,999 Democrats, 523,669 Republicans, and 448,072 nonpartisans/others. That’s a 5.04 percentage point advantage for Democrats over Republicans.

So, what does it all mean? Well, for some context the Democrat lead over Republicans in 2014 (red wave election) was 5.1 and in the blue wave years of 2016 and 2018 it was 6.1 and 4.8, respectively. But the share of nonpartians/others has grown significantly as a percentage of the total number of registered voters. They represented 25.6 percent of voters in 2014, 27.2 percent in 2016, 28.2 percent in 2018 and 28.5 percent today.

And compared to the number of voters during the last election, there are 4,825 more Democrats, 418 more Republicans and 8,569 more nonpartisans/others.

We’ll be keeping an eye on these voter registration totals as automatic voter registration at the DMV — meaning voters have to opt-out of registering to vote instead of having to opt-in — kicks in this month.

Steyer’s post-Christmas trip to Las Vegas: Steyer was in Las Vegas Dec. 26 to 28. While in town, he attended a meet and greet with local business leaders at an event hosted by ArtKore Print Group, a Latino-owned print shop in Las Vegas. (He was also endorsed by the print shop’s founder, Rassiel Godinez.)

Booker’s pre-New Year’s trip to Reno: Booker returned to Reno on Dec. 30 to attend a Latino community leader roundtable and host a “Conversation with Cory” event, featuring Assemblywoman Sarah Peters and Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus. Per CBS News’s Alex Tin, more than 300 people attended the latter event, and some tears were shed as Booker shared an emotional story about seeing someone shot in Newark.


CAMPAIGN NUGGETS

Staffing changes and office openings

  • Warren opened her 11th campaign office in Southwest Las Vegas on Sunday. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, a national surrogate for the campaign, attended the office opening (as did state Sen. Dallas Harris) and Rippon also hosted a house party in Las Vegas.
  • Steyer opened his third campaign office in the state in Summerlin on Saturday. (The campaign also has offices in Las Vegas and Reno.) The office opening was attended by his son, Sam Steyer, who also attended other events on his father’s behalf over the weekend, including attending a caucus training on Friday and speaking at Abundant Peace Church on Sunday.
  • State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who endorsed Biden back in April, has joined the former vice president’s team as Nevada senior advisor.
  • Buttigieg has added additional staff in Nevada including Drake Ridge as Nevada labor constituency director and Ishmael Cody-Harvell as Nevada black constituency director. (Ridge previously worked on Gov. Steve Sisolak’s campaign.) The campaign also relocated Cat O'Connor, national veterans engagement director, to Nevada.

New endorsements

  • Clark County School District Board of Trustees President Lola Brooks endorsed Sanders for president last week.
  • Steyer was endorsed by Reverend Wilfred Moore of the Abundant Peace Church in Las Vegas.
  • Buttigieg received the endorsements of more than 20 community leaders in Nevada last week, including from Brian Wadsworth, a commissioner on the Nevada Indian Commission.
  • Yang has been endorsed by Rutt Premsrirut, a philanthropist and one of the founders of the Las Vegas Children Foundation, and Tom Julpas Kruesopon, a leader in the Thai community.
  • For the latest on presidential endorsements, check out our tracker.

Upcoming candidate visits

  • Biden will return to Nevada this weekend. He’ll be in Reno on Friday and Las Vegas on Saturday.
  • Buttigieg will also return to Las Vegas this weekend. His only announced stop so far is a rally at Silverado High School on Saturday at 3 p.m.
  • Klobuchar is slated to return to Las Vegas on Saturday, unless impeachment proceedings interfere.
  • Yang will participate in a virtual town hall hosted by the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus on Friday evening.
  • Steyer will return to Nevada for the second-ever Native American Presidential Forum on Jan. 15 and address members of the Culinary Union on Jan. 16.
  • For the latest on presidential candidate visits, check out our visit tracker.

Surrogate stops

  • Jason Mraz and The Mowgli’s performed at First Friday in Downtown Las Vegas on Jan. 3 on behalf of the Sanders campaign. Campaign co-chair Nina Turner also spoke at the event.
  • Steyer’s wife Kat Taylor will campaign in Las Vegas on Thursday. She will attend a luncheon with the Women's Democratic Club of Clark County, an AAPI women's roundtable with the Asian Community Resource Center, and a happy hour at Atomic Liquors.
  • Pulse Nightclub survivor and gun violence prevention activist Brandon Wolf, trans and civil rights activist Ashlee Marie Preston and New York state Sen. Gustavo Rivera will campaign for Warren in Reno and Las Vegas this weekend, including stops at Cardenas Market and an LGBTQ+ youth forum.

Other election news

  • Booker announced on Monday a paid internship program in Nevada, with interns working 15 hours a week at $15 an hour.
  • The Nevada Republican Party is hosting two fundraising dinners this weekend featuring the party’s Chairman Michael McDonald, former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for Trump 2020. The events will be held at Fabrizio’s in Downtown Las Vegas and the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively.
  • Though not explicitly election related, President Trump's elder daughter Ivanka Trump will join a keynote discussion on “the path to the future of work” at CES today.
  • Yang supporters have been touting the tech entrepreneur's policies on cryptocurrency, data privacy and net neutrality at CES.

DOWN BALLOT NEWS

Horsford boosted by new ad buy: Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford is benefitting from a new multi-million dollar ad buy touting members of Congress who recently greenlit a Democratic-backed omnibus bill that seeks to lower prescription drug prices in part by allowing the government to negotiate those prices through Medicare. My colleague Jacob Solis has more.


OTHER REQUIRED READING

In a single week, Las Vegas again reminds nation of what’s at stake in gun debate

Flowers lay on the ground near the Route 91 Festival grounds

Snapshots from a week in America’s endless civil war:

Shortly after sunrise on Tuesday, a small but solemn gathering took place at the Clark County Government Center Amphitheater to mark the second anniversary of the darkest moment in Las Vegas history. Respectful tribute was paid, as it should always be paid, to the victims of the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting. Not only to the 58 murdered, but also to the hundreds wounded and thousands whose lives were changed forever.

Those victims should be remembered as part of the legion of people who lost their lives on the way to treating the nation’s gun obsession, but those words sound naïve even as I write them.

There were tears and prayers and uniformed first responders. Even officials with prepared texts at times appeared to search for the right words to reflect an indescribable loss. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who made gun safety measures and banning bump stock attachments a central part of his agenda, had it right when he said, “As painful as it may be, especially on a day like today, our capacity to remember, to feel what we felt all over again, is what binds us together as a community - as a family and it makes us strong."

Las Vegas will always remember. But will America?

With a friendly Legislature marching behind him and the horrors of 1 October haunting so many, Sisolak had a relatively easy path to the passage of AB 291, an omnibus gun safety bill. It’s a reminder of the power of leadership at the state level when Congress perennially fails to act.

On Wednesday, Democratic Party presidential candidates gathered to remind the nation of their deep concerns about gun safety, universal background checks, and banning semiautomatic assault rifles that are so easily converted to fire automatically. They also reminded Nevadans of the importance of the state’s first-in-the-West caucus. Most sang from similar choir books. They were loud enough, but given their general track record you’d be forgiven for being skeptical.

Will this time be different? The Democrats have an anemic success record against the gun manufacturers’ best friend, the National Rifle Association. Without a sweeping victory in 2020 that also changes the balance of power in the Senate, their mid-week speeches will be political drift smoke.

Cut to Thursday morning in a crowded law downtown law office: Attorney Robert Eglet, a hometown boy who made good, stood before the press to officially announce one of the largest civil settlements in American history just two years and two days after the nightmare of 1 October. Among the country’s most successful litigators, he’d come not to ridicule Mandalay Bay parent company MGM Resorts, but to praise it following a months-long mediation that will settle a sprawling lawsuit and provide from $735 million to $800 million to approximately 4,500 participating claimants including victims and their families, and with no admission of liability by the state’s largest employer. At times, the public face of the Eglet Adams law firm sounded as much like a representative of the casino giant as the plaintiffs’ lead Las Vegas counsel.

“While nothing will be able to bring back the lives lost or undo the horrors so many suffered on that day, this settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” Eglet said. “MGM Resorts is a valued member of the Las Vegas community and this settlement represents good corporate citizenship on their part. We believe that the terms of this settlement represent the best outcome for our clients and will provide the greatest good for those impacted by these events."

A few minutes later, Eglet went off script and said something that should echo all the way to Washington. Talk of change is fine as far as it goes, but turning back America’s semi-automatic slaughter machine will only be successful when the gun manufacturers who make the weapons of war and sell them to civilians can no longer hide behind the litigation impunity carved out in Congress by the gun lobby.

“Are we really free when children in our country are afraid to go to school because they might get shot?” he asked. “Are we really free in this country when people are afraid to go to the movies, or even the grocery store, for fear there may be a mass shooting out there? Are we really free in this country when people in Las Vegas and our visitors can’t enjoy a concert on a beautiful fall night here in Las Vegas? Are we really free? I don’t feel very free with those types of things. … I would hope our leaders in Washington will take notice of this and do something about it. I’m not optimistic that’s going to happen, but I still have hope.”

The October 1 settlement represents a moment of hope for healing against a grim reality in our ceaseless civil war.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

MGM Resorts agrees to pay victims of Las Vegas shooting up to $800 million

A shattered window on the 32nd floor at the Mandalay Bay

MGM Resorts International has agreed to pay up to $800 million to the victims of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shooting on the Las Vegas Strip in October 2017 that claimed the lives of 58 and injured more than 800.

Under the proposed settlement agreement, the victims of the shooting have agreed to dismiss all pending litigation against MGM Resorts, which owns the Mandalay Bay, where the killer Stephen Paddock rained down bullets from a hotel room on the 32nd floor and into the crowd of 22,000 below. MGM Resorts will pay between $735 million and $800 million depending on the number of victims who ultimately participate in the settlement.

Robert Eglet, one of the lawyers who represented the victims, said in a statement Thursday that the settlement marked a “milestone in the recovery process” for thousands of victims and their families. He said that the announcement represents “good corporate citizenship” by MGM Resorts, which took a significant public relations hit last year after taking the pre-emptive step of suing the victims in an attempt to shield itself from liability.

“We believe that the terms of this settlement represent the best outcome for our clients and will provide the greatest good for those impacted by these events,” Eglet said.

About 4,400 victims, represented by more than 60 law firms, are claimants in the litigation, Eglet said. How much of a payout they will receive remains to be seen.

The court is expected to appoint an independent claims administrator to evaluate each claim and allot settlements out of the fund — a process that likely won’t be completed until late 2020. The third-party claims administrator will determine a system for doling out the settlement funds, taking into consideration the circumstances of the victim, such as loss of a loved one, physical injury or emotional distress, Eglet said.

“While nothing will be able to bring back the lives lost or undo the horrors so many suffered on that day, this settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” he said.

The settlement also averts a protracted legal battle, which Eglet said could have dragged on for more than a decade. In reaching the settlement, MGM Resorts has admitted no liability.

Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, called the agreement a “major step” and one the company had “hoped for a long time would be possible.

"We have always believed that prolonged litigation around these matters is in no one's best interest,” Murren said in a statement. “It is our sincere hope that this agreement means that scenario will be avoided."

The settlements will be funded by MGM Resorts’ insurers with a minimum of $735 million, but the resort has up to $751 million in coverage. MGM Resorts is expected to add any additional amounts needed to fund claims up to $800 million.

The gaming company was involved in negotiations with the law firms for nearly eight months. 

Eglet, who harshly criticized MGM Resorts when the company tried to avoid liability by invoking the little-known federal law called the SAFETY Act, reversed course during a Thursday news conference. He lavished praise on MGM Resorts, the largest employer in Nevada, calling the company a “shining example of what corporations can do in America.”

Still, Eglet acknowledged he was skeptical of MGM Resorts’ insistence that it was trying to consolidate the lawsuits to avoid lengthy litigation.

“I was wrong,” he said Thursday. “They proved that to me in the first several weeks of this mediation.”

Co-counsel Kevin Boyle, who also represented victims involved in the litigation, said the outcome — a major corporation aiding victims of a mass shooting — could drive change by spurring the business world to advocate for common-sense laws that may prevent such tragedies.

“Those powerful companies can put pressure on the government to make real change in this country,” he said.

The settlement announcement comes two days after the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting and one day after nine Democratic presidential candidates participated in Las Vegas-based forum addressing gun violence.

Eglet waded into the ongoing debate, saying Congress should repeal federal legislation that grants firearm manufacturers immunity from civil liability. 

“Why do the gun manufacturers get a free ride?” he said. “If you want to do something about the gun violence in this country, repeal that statute and let American juries decide if the risk of putting these type of weapons of mass murder on the street outweighs the benefit. I have a feeling the American juries would stop the sale and cause a lot of incentive to the gun manufacturers to stop making and selling these type of weapons in this country if they were subject to liability.”

 

AG's former employer could earn up to $350 million from opioid lawsuit

Attorney General Aaron Ford’s former law firm could earn up to $350 million through a potentially lucrative contract to represent the state in a massive lawsuit against the nation’s top opioid manufacturers and producers.

Ford’s office released details of the selection process and contract with his former employer, Eglet Prince, on Monday after announcing early in April that the firm had won the contract with the state. Ford, who previously announced that he would recuse himself from selection of an outside law firm, moved in January to obtain permission from state lawmakers for his office to seek outside counsel in the lawsuit, a break from former Attorney General Adam Laxalt who filed suit against Purdue Pharma in 2018.

The contract is based on contingent fees, an arrangement wherein the state will pay nothing up front but will owe a certain percentage of any damages received if the state prevails in the suit. The percentages in the contract are based on the amount of damages recovered and whether they are paid prior to or after discovery in any court proceeding. It sets maximum recoverable amounts by the firm in the following ranges:

  • No more than $240 million if recovered damages are between $1 billion and $1.25 billion
  • No more than $300 million if recovered damages are between $1.25 billion and $1.5 billion
  • No more than $350 million if recovered damages are above $1.5 billion.

Over the past two years, Eglet Prince has entered into contracts with at least nine municipalities in the state to represent them in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, but efforts to represent the state were rebuffed by Laxalt.

The contract also gives the state the ability to terminate the agreement without cause or if the contract potentially jeopardizes federal grant funds. It also contains language regarding record-keeping, ensuring the state is not liable if a settlement is not reached and ensuring Eglet Prince is responsible for attorney’s fees if an adverse judgement is issued against the state.

Documents released by the Attorney General’s office also detail the names of the nine firms that applied for the contract, which include:

  • Campbell & Williams
  • Eglet Prince
  • Labaton Sucharow
  • Ronald Green
  • Miner, Barnhill & Galland P.C.
  • Keller Rohrback LLP
  • Motley Rice LLC
  • KMK Law
  • Wolf, Rifkin, Shaprio, Schulman & Rabkin

The released documents also include the “scores” given to each of the bids submitted by the law firms by the seven-member search committee. Under the bidding process, individual committee members assign scores out of 100 points to each firm based on aspects such as the firm’s legal strategy, professional reputation and ability to front financial resources to fight the litigation. The three top-scoring firms were invited to give a presentation, receiving scores out of 300 possible points from each search committee member.

Eglet Prince scored below (609.5 points) two other law firms in the pre-presentation phase, behind Motley Rice LLC (633.8 points) and Wolf, Rifkin, Shaprio, Schulman & Rabkin (626.3 points). But the firm made up ground in the presentation phase, earning 1,900 points out of 2,100 — in part boosted by a perfect 300 point score given by Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa. Eglet Prince also received a 125.48 point bonus for a “Nevada preference,” which was not granted to the other two firms and was available under a provision in the contract giving a 5 percent preference to businesses based in the state.

The awarding of the contract marks the end of a nearly two-year effort by Eglet Prince to represent the state in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Robert Eglet, head of the firm, met with Laxalt in June 2017 on the issues but was denied by the former attorney general, who declined to move further after determining the state was instead “best positioned” to continue participating in a multistate investigation into potential unlawful practices by opioid manufacturers.

Laxalt’s office also warned municipalities including the city of Reno that entering into a contract with an outside law firm could “unintentionally undermine” the state’s position and ability to receive damages or cash settlements from any future settlement.

For his part, Ford was instrumental in passing a last-minute amendment in the 2017 Legislature that removed a cap on fees awardable to outside law firms that contract with the state. Such contingent fee contracts have been criticized by some legal experts and former attorneys general as allowing states to outsource their litigation power to private firms.

The contract was kick-started through approval by state lawmakers during a meeting of the Interim Finance Committee in January, available through a declaration of findings signed by Ford and Gov. Steve Sisolak on Jan. 23 saying the state required additional legal resources to pursue the litigation.

Nevada’s drug overdose mortality rate was 21.6 per 100,000 residents in 2017, and in 2016 the state’s doctors on average wrote an average of 81 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 residents. The CDC counted 676 drug-overdose deaths in the state in 2017.

RFP 03AG-S553 - Evaluators Score Tally Sheet by Riley Snyder on Scribd

RFP 03AG-S553 - Contingent Fee Contract for Legal Services Re Opioid Investigation and Litigation (1) by Riley Snyder on Scribd

State court rules to allow Clark County opioid case to move forward

District Court Judge Timothy Williams cleared the way for a Clark County opioid lawsuit Wednesday, denying 13 separate motions to dismiss the case and allowing the suit against more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies to move forward.

In ruling from the bench, Williams said, “It’s time to get this litigation moving,” noting that it’s been more than a year since the county’s original complaint against the pharmaceutical companies was filed.

Even with today’s ruling, Robert Eglet, an attorney representing the county, said it could be years before the case reaches any kind of conclusion.

“A case like this, you could have interlocutory appeals — writs to the Supreme Court where things get stayed — and we have to go up and deal with that,” Eglet said. “Sometimes it can be six months before you get something like that ruled on, but generally, a case like this takes anywhere from two to six years to be completed.”

Clark County filed its initial complaint in late 2017, alleging a number of defendants related to the manufacturing, distribution or sale of highly addictive opioids had sought to play up the effectiveness and downplay the possible dangers of their drugs in an effort to boost profits. Those named defendants are largely made up of pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma or Janssen Pharmaceuticals, though the case also goes after distributors, pharmacies and some so-called “detailers,” or pharmaceutical sales representatives.

Representatives for the defense did not respond to a request for comment.

But in two days of highly technical, sometimes contentious oral arguments, lawyers for the drug companies argued the complaint was fatally flawed and should have been dismissed.

In addition to a number of claims specific to each defendant, they claimed the county lacked standing — or an ability to bring the case at all — because of another ongoing suit from the attorney general’s office, that FDA approval and oversight from the DEA “pre-empted” the county’s ability to sue, and that the complaint was too general in its accusations.

They also argued that, though the complaint doesn’t mention fraud as a specific “cause of action,” the county had outlined a fraud case and should therefore be bound by a higher pleading standard, and that the county, though it claimed the companies lied to doctors and pharmacies, made no specific mention of what those lies were, or when or to whom they were made.

But lawyers for the defense were frequently questioned by Williams, who often pressed them on the interpretation of the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern the way civil cases play out.

At one point, after one of nearly a dozen lawyers for the defense had argued multiple times that the complaint lacked specificity, Williams asked, “Are we to have a thousand-page complaint?”

Representatives for the county in turn argued that state civil procedure rules were in this case modified by existing case law, meaning that the complaint could proceed under a lower bar or “pleading standard.”

But lawyers for the pharmaceutical companies also argued that Clark County was barred from receiving damages because of the “municipal cost recovery rule,” a common law principle which keeps cities from seeking damages for services that they would have completed anyway, such as police work or fire rescues, that has not been adopted in Nevada.

But Eglet argued that the damages being sought were for costs only incurred expressly because of the opioid crisis, such as hospital bills or police response to opioid related emergencies.

At another point, late into the second day of oral arguments, Eglet pointed a finger at an attorney representing Insys Therapeutics, maker of Fentanyl, and accused his company of complicity in the death of a Henderson judge by Fentanyl overdose in 2016.

Then, to demonstrate the lengths to which he asserted that Insys went to promote Fentanyl, Eglet showed the judge a music video the company had developed that he said “promoted the off-label use” of their drugs. That video shows sales representatives from the company dancing alongside a mascot of a Fentanyl spray encouraging other sales representatives to push doctors to slowly increase the prescribed dosage of the drug, a process called “titration.”

Eglet said it was “just a sample” of what the county would obtain through the discovery process.

But a lawyer representing Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, who followed that presentation, flipped the argument and said that Eglet’s insinuation that all of the defendants had engaged in such behavior undermines the entire complaint, as he had only demonstrated such behavior by Insys.

Moving forward, Williams told the court that the case would likely require a special master, or a third party who will oversee the discovery process. Such special masters are not unusual in cases like Clark County’s, and they have been used in high profile cases.

Several other county and municipal lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies with an alleged role in the opioid crisis are ongoing, in addition to the lawsuit from the attorney general’s office.

AG will recuse on selecting outside legal help for opioid lawsuit

In a reversal from his Republican predecessor, Attorney General Aaron Ford is seeking an outside firm to represent the state in a major lawsuit against some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers.

Despite skepticism from some Republicans, members of the legislative Interim Finance Committee granted the attorney general’s office permission on Wednesday to open up bidding for an outside law firm to represent the state in litigation against opioid manufacturers. Ford, who between 2015 and 2018 worked for a private law firm that is representing numerous Nevada municipalities in class action lawsuits, also said Wednesday that he will recuse himself from selection of outside counsel.

State Consumer Advocate Ernest Figueroa, who presented the request to lawmakers, gave few details on the proposed litigation beyond stating that approval from the interim body was a required step under state law. He cited a declaration of findings signed by Ford and Gov. Steve Sisolak on Jan. 23 saying the state likely required additional legal resources to pursue litigation against companies that engaged in “unlawful and deceptive practices marketing of prescription opioids.”

“There is an opioid crisis, there is need for outside counsel, and we’re here to request approval of such a request,” he said during the meeting.

The proposal will allow the attorney general’s office to enter into a contingent fee contract with an outside law firm that falls under the state’s legal requirements for competitive bidding on contracts. Contingency is a common legal practice where attorneys agree to not be paid unless they win a case and are guaranteed a percentage of any damages awarded. States have used similar contracts for complicated or large lawsuits, such as the cases brought against major tobacco companies in the 1990s, but some legal experts have criticized the practice.

As state Senate majority leader, Ford was instrumental in passing a little-noticed amendment on the last day of the 2017 legislative session removing caps on fees awardable to outside law firms contracting with the state, undoing a 2015 law intended to curb alleged abuses of the contingent fee contract system. The amendment removed a $10 million cap on recoverable damages, replacing it with an upper limit of 25 percent of total funds awarded.

Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who along with five other Republicans voted against the recommendation, said the request was overly vague and would incentivize an outside law firm to pursue litigation on behalf of the state without necessarily showing it was warranted.

“It’s a really perverse incentive to find justice for a claim that we don’t know whether it even exists at this point,” he said. “We don’t know that anyone did anything wrong. You’re not presenting us anything saying we need to file a claim, or we need to have counsel even. I don’t even know what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, a Democrat, said during the hearing he believed the attorney general’s office needed the outside help for future litigation and that there was no question Nevada was suffering an opioid crisis. He said insinuations that the request would lead to overreaching litigation was incorrect.

“Lawyers don’t only get paid to file lawsuits,” he said. “Lawyers get paid to investigate, lawyers get paid to assess, this isn’t paying somebody to go file a lawsuit. I also wanted to point out that the state of Nevada in previous years has joined lawsuits of other states, and no one here complained.”

Nevada has the fourth-highest drug overdose mortality rate, 20.7 per 100,000 residents in 2010, and the state’s doctors on average write 94 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 residents. The CDC counted 619 drug-overdose deaths in the state in 2015.

Figueroa declined to answer a Nevada Independent reporter’s questions about the request to retain outside counsel after the hearing. In a statement sent after the hearing, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said Ford would recuse himself from selecting an outside firm and that procuring the help of outside counsel was necessary.

“Thousands of Nevadans have been affected by the opioid crisis that has ravaged our State,” spokeswoman Monica Moazez wrote in an email. “We will use any tool at our disposal to get justice for Nevada, including hiring outside counsel.”

Prior to his election, Ford worked as a trial lawyer and partner at the law firm of Eglet Prince, which was rebuffed by former Attorney General Adam Laxalt in an attempt to represent the state in litigation against opioid companies. Laxalt’s office had previously warned that allowing cities and counties to file lawsuits against opioid companies could jeopardize an ongoing multi-state investigation and lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.

Robert Eglet, the firm’s name partner, met with Laxalt in June 2017 to discuss potentially bringing the state into opioid litigation. Laxalt declined to enter into a contract with the firm, instead launching a lawsuit in May against Purdue Pharma on similar grounds. That lawsuit is still ongoing and is due to be heard in Clark County District Court in April 2019.

Starting with Clark County, at least nine local governments and municipalities have entered into contingent fee contracts with Eglet Prince to file class action lawsuits against a slew of opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, Allergan and McKesson Corporation. A spokesman for Eglet Prince did not respond to an email asking if the firm planned to submit a bid to represent the state in that case.

Sisolak's 2018 calendar gives detailed view into campaign, county operations

A mix of lobbyist meetings, fundraisers, campaign events and county business dominated Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak’s calendar throughout the first 11 months of 2018, according to a copy obtained by The Nevada Independent.

Sisolak, who defeated Republican Adam Laxalt in the November election and will be sworn in next month as the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, kept a packed schedule through most of the year, ranging from meetings with gaming executives, business leaders, top lobbyists and other candidates for office, along with debate prep, campaign events and nearly three dozen fundraisers in addition to his normal county business.

The information was obtained via a records request submitted by The Nevada Independent on Dec. 7 for a copy of the Clark County Commission chair’s calendar from Jan. 1 to the first week in December. Some caveats: just because a meeting was scheduled in the calendar doesn’t necessarily mean it happened, and the calendar isn’t a definitive record of Sisolak’s meetings and activity on the campaign trail.

With hundreds of entries, the calendar provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the relationships and schedule of the man soon to be Nevada’s 30th governor.

Jay Brown

Twenty-seven scheduled meetings, including 17 one-on-one meetings, underline the close relationship between Sisolak and powerhouse local government lobbyist Jay Brown, whose long list of clients includes Resorts World, Republic Services, Treasure Island and a host of marijuana dispensaries.

Two of the meetings were held with longtime Walters Group president Mike Luce in January and August. Another two meetings with Brown were held with developer Don Webb, the Raiders stadium chief operating officer. Brown represented the team in its business before the county commission last year.

Other participants in meetings with Brown and Sisolak included prominent Las Vegas developer Brett Torino on Oct. 10, developer-turned-cannabis company owner Mitch Wilson on Nov. 29 and prominent criminal defense attorney David Chesnoff on Jan. 9.

Brown, a top attorney and former law partner of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, has close relations with many Southern Nevada power players, including former Sen. Harry Reid and incarcerated gambler Billy Walters. Walters’ wife, Susan, contributed $100,000 to Sisolak’s gubernatorial campaign in the weeks ahead of the 2018 election.

Brown contributed $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign through his law firm on Oct. 5, and another $10,000 personally on Sept. 1, 2017.

Eglet

In December 2017, Clark County became the first jurisdiction in Nevada to contract with the private law firm of Eglet Prince to pursue litigation against 17 pharmaceutical-grade opioid companies.

Over the next several months, close to a dozen other jurisdictions in the state would also enter into similar contracts with Eglet Prince. During that period, Robert Eglet, the firm’s namesake and senior partner, continued to meet with Sisolak and help his campaign.

Sisolak’s calendar shows meetings with Eglet on Jan. 23, a dinner with him and lawyer/businessman Peter Palivos on Feb. 2, another meeting on May 31 and an Eglet-hosted fundraiser on July 26, the same day Sisolak’s campaign reported receiving more than $107,000 in contributions, including $5,000 from Eglet Prince.

Post election meetings

So far, Sisolak has announced that a handful of Sandoval administration appointees will remain at the helm of executive branch agencies in his administration, and his scheduled meetings since the election suggest he’s considering keeping more in place.

His calendar shows meetings with current Department of Transportation Director Rudy Malfabon on Dec. 4, and a meeting with Paul Anderson, head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, on Dec. 5. Both meetings were scheduled at Sisolak’s “Transition HQ.”

The incoming governor also met with SEIU leaders Brian Shepherd and Grace Vergara at the transition HQ on Dec. 5. The Clark County Commission approved a 1 percent salary increase for all county employees and a 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment pay bump for union members at their Dec. 18 meeting.

Peter Palivos

Sisolak’s calendar also shows eight meetings with Las Vegas lawyer and businessman Palivos, a personal friend, between January and June of 2018. Palivos was the seller in a $7 million land deal in 2012 with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and since then has been a philanthropist and Democratic political donor.

He donated $15,000 to Sisolak’s gubernatorial bid between September 2017 and October 2018, about a quarter of the $57,000 total he has donated to Democratic candidates and causes since 2012.

Before moving to Nevada, Palivos was involved in a dubious real estate deal in Illinois which eventually saw him convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice in 2003 — though Palivos had claimed outside of court that he was framed by prosecutors for refusing to provide evidence against former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

Other meetings

Sisolak’s calendar is peppered with other meetings with top lobbyists and political insiders.

It shows three scheduled meetings with powerful lobbyist and R&R Partners CEO Billy Vassiliadis in March, April, and a few days after the general election in November, as well as a scheduled meeting at the firm’s office on Nov. 13. The advertising firm represents some of the most powerful entities in the state, including the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Blockchains LLC and the Nevada Resort Association.

Sisolak also met with lobbyist Gary Milliken at least four times, including joint meetings with taxi executive Jonathan Schwartz and Nevada Contractors Association vice president Sean Stewart.

The calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with Station Casino owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta on Oct. 3. Both Feritta brothers and their wives individually contributed $10,000 to Sisolak’s campaign about a week earlier, according to campaign finance records.

He also reported meeting with former Diamond Resorts CEO Stephen Cloobeck on Oct. 21. Cloobeck, who in 2017 weighed a run for governor, contributed $5,000 to Sisolak in August and constantly slammed his Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, on Twitter prior to the election.

He also met with Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox on Aug. 28, Monarch Casino Resorts CEO John Farahi on Sept. 12 and Switch CEO Rob Roy, also on Sept. 12.

Education support

Meetings recorded on the calendar also underline Sisolak’s close alliance with the Clark County Education Association and its leader, John Vellardita.

In addition to a CCEA podcast recording in late May, Sisolak’s calendar shows a meeting with Velardita on June 27, the same month the union officially split from its parent organization, the Nevada State Education Association. Velardita held a fundraiser for Sisolak on Oct. 24, a day which his campaign reported raising more than $58,000.

CCEA was an early backer of Sisolak in both the primary and general elections, including spending more than $1.3 million on his behalf through 2017 and 2018 through the “Nevada Leads” political action committee, which ran ads attacking primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani and Laxalt.

Although the NSEA spent heavily to back Giunchigliani, Sisolak’s calendar shows meetings with the group on July 19 and a roundtable with the organization on Oct. 12, about a week before the union announced it was endorsing him for governor. He also met with Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara on the same day as the NSEA meeting, July 19.

Political meetings & fundraisers

He also had scheduled meeting with current and former Democratic elected officials over the span of several months, including Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Richard Bryan, Senate Majority Leader and attorney general candidate Aaron Ford, Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and state party chair and Assemblyman Will McCurdy.

In the heat of campaign season, Sisolak also met with a number of Democratic politicians, candidates and former politicians. That includes several primary fundraisers with state and local politicians, including Rep. Dina Titus on March 27, then-state Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson on March 27, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela on March 14, and County Commission candidate Tick Segerblom on October 25.

Sisolak’s calendar also shows a scheduled meeting with Segerblom’s primary opponent, labor organizer Marco Hernandez, on March 28 — the same day Sisolak’s “Sandstone PAC” contributed $500 to Hernandez’s campaign.

He also reported meeting with National Popular Vote, a group pushing for states to adopt an agreement to cast electoral votes toward the winner of the popular vote, on July 10. A bill adding Nevada to the compact failed to make it out of committee in 2017.

Whether fundraisers were for Sisolak, another candidate or joint was usually not made explicit in the calendar, though by the general election he had held at least 32 fundraisers exclusively for his own campaign, including at least two after the election in November. Those fundraisers include:

  • 7/18 - Ali Rizvi, CEO of Litigation Services, LLC.
  • 7/19 - Doctors fundraiser with three local doctors, including a “Dr. Prabhu,”(Rachakonda Prabhu, longtime politically connected physician) Dr. William Resh, and Dr. Nick Spirtos
  • 7/26 - Robert Eglet, partner at Eglet Prince
  • 8/15 - Phil Peckman, CEO of The Peckman Capital Corporation
  • 8/20 - Chad Christensen, former state assemblyman
  • 8/29 - Scott Canepa, attorney at Canepa Abele Riedy, and Scott Sibley, publisher and former assemblyman
  • 9/5 - Small business fundraiser
  • 9/6 - Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
  • 9/6 - Christopher Kaempfer and Anthony Celeste, attorneys at Kaempfer Crowell
  • 9/10 - Barbara Molasky, account executive at The Rogich Communications Group and President of the Neon Museum, and Jan Jones, former Las Vegas mayor
  • 9/11 - Laura Fitzsimmons, Sisolak’s longtime personal lawyer, and Mary Kaye Cashman, CEO of the Cashman Equipment Company
  • 9/13 - Rob Walsh, attorney at Walsh & Freedman, and Khusrow Roohani, owner of Seven Valleys Realty
  • 9/15 - Fundraiser, Bonefish Grill
  • 9/20 - Ozzie Fumo, state assemblyman
  • 9/24 - Mike Dreitzer, CEO of Gaming Arts LLC (the calendar entry for this fundraiser misspells the name as “Mike Drezier”)
  • 9/25 - Robert Goldstein, President and COO of Las Vegas Sands
  • 10/3 - George Harris, CEO of Alien Tequila, Don Ahern, CEO of Ahern Rentals
  • 10/4 - Robert Goldstein, president and COO of the Las Vegas Sands. Goldstein contributed $5,000 to Sisolak’s campaign on Aug. 21.
  • 10/5 - Dr. Tousif Pasha
  • 10/10 - Ash Mirchandani, former deputy director at the state Department of Business and Industry and lobbyist
  • 10/11 - Ross Miller, former Nevada secretary of state, Bob Miller, former Nevada governor, “Dr. Khan” (longtime politically connected physician Ike Khan)
  • 10/12 - Marybel Batjer, secretary of California’s Government Operations Agency, former VP of public policy and corporate social responsibility for Caesars Entertainment and former chief of staff for Gov. Kenny Guinn.
  • 10/17 - Mark James, former state senator and county commissioner, Neil Tomlinson, managing partner at Hyperion Advisors
  • 10/21 - Mark Miyaoka, Robert Song and Helen Hsueh, owner and publisher of the Las Vegas Chinese Daily News
  • 10/22 - Rita Vaswani, professional banking relationship manager at Nevada State Bank and Dr. Benito Calderon
  • 10/24 - John Vellardita, head of the Clark County Education Association
  • 10/25 - Sharon and Tick Segerblom, the former state senator and incoming Clark County commissioner
  • 10/26 - Dr. Nick Spirtos, CEO of the Apothecary marijuana dispensary, and NFL player Jerry Rice (Spirtos is Rice’s family doctor). The fundraiser was scheduled but did not take place.
  • 10/27 - William Hill CEO Joe Asher and company attorney Reed Horsley
  • 12/4 - Judy Perez, an executive with real estate development company Siegel Group
  • 12/5 - Tyre Gray, an attorney and lobbyist with the law firm of Fennemore Craig

Sisolak calendar by Riley Snyder on Scribd