As we confront the toll that opioid addiction has had on the public health and safety of our community, what should we expect from our elected officials in their handling of this high stakes problem?
Should the interests of the trial bar predominate as we contemplate whether litigation is appropriate for the county, and if the answer is yes, what the terms of such an arrangement ought to be? Or, should other voices be heard in these important discussions?
Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on what the proper approach is, but that doesn't seem to be the mindset of Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons.
Instead of giving any consideration to advice offered by the Illinois Civil Justice League that urged him and other officials to reject (for obvious reasons) the use of contingency fees with outside counsel if they decide to follow the lead of other southern Illinois counties in pursuing opioid-related litigation against drug companies, his reaction was nuclear.
"Around here, we know how to arm ourselves to take on bad guys, so if we’re going into battle - we’re bringing serious firepower," Gibbons said in response. "I’m going to make sure that Madison County has the biggest guns available to bring to the fight."
He dismissed the ICJL's input as a “propaganda campaign” and a “blatant effort to tip the scales of justice against the citizens of Madison County.”
Yet, a public official whose duty is owed to all citizens might have said, “Thanks for the input. I'll take that into consideration.”
If Gibbons is so willing to be courted with the trial bar's proposals - which incidentally pays 25-30 percent in contingency fees - then he owes the same attention to the demands for transparency and limitations on fees and campaign contributions that could trickle down and make their way into his coffers or those of his allies.
Is there anyone who disagrees that the opioid epidemic has devastated lives and communities? However, the misery that has been exacted should not serve as opportunity for a select few to get rich without proper controls in place.