State to appeal Judge Balkman’s final order in opioid case

Ponca City Now - November 22, 2019 10:31 am

OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter on Thursday announced that the state intends to appeal Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s final order issued last Friday in the trial against Johnson & Johnson.

Hunter said  the state agrees with Judge Balkman’s final order on a multitude of fronts. For example, the court correctly applied Oklahoma’s public nuisance law to this case, found that Johnson & Johnson is a direct cause of the state’s opioid epidemic, the epidemic is a public nuisance and menace to Oklahoma, and Johnson & Johnson is responsible for abating the nuisance.

However, attorneys for the state take issue with the part of the court’s ruling that only requires Johnson & Johnson to pay for one year of the state’s abatement plan, which was carefully designed by state officials.

“Judge Balkman’s conduct of both pre-trial and trial proceedings was informed and balanced,” Hunter said. “His final order was correct and evidence-based as to causation and Johnson & Johnson’s culpability. However, we respectfully disagree with his order where it says Johnson & Johnson must only fund one year of cleaning up the public nuisance he found Johnson & Johnson created, after the company deceived and bombarded our doctors and Oklahomans with lies, leading to the deadliest manmade public health crisis in our nation’s history. This limitation directly opposes evidence presented during trial and the state’s public nuisance law, which requires full remediation of the problem. It is crystal clear under Oklahoma law that once a company is found liable for causing a public nuisance, it must pay what it takes to clean it up until the nuisance is gone.

“During the trial, the state’s expert witnesses repeatedly testified that it could take up to 30 years or more to take our state back to where we were before the crisis began. Our abatement plan was put together by some of the foremost experts in the state and nation on what it will take to overcome this tragedy that continues to grip our state. All of these experts agree that there are dire consequences if we do not end the crisis in its entirety, and that it will get much worse and more Oklahomans will die. Johnson & Johnson had no abatement expert of its own and failed to present a competing abatement plan.”

The attorney general agrees with the position taken by Governor Kevin Stitt, President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall in the amicus brief filed on their behalf, that since the Court found Johnson & Johnson created the public nuisance, Johnson & Johnson should be required to fund all abatement costs until the nuisance they created has been abated.

Read the state’s abatement plan:

The state has until Dec. 16 to file its appeal.


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