PALM BAY — The Palm Bay City Council approved a motion on May 3 to retain Melbourne attorney Michael Kahn to file a state lawsuit against “Big Pharma” in an effort to recover damages related to opioid abuse and addiction.
Council members also voted to cancel the previous contract with the city’s lobbyist, Ron Book, who was contracted at the end of 2017 to file a similar lawsuit in federal court.
Deputy Mayor Tres Holton voted against both items, stating, “Play some politics and you get a contract with the city of Palm Bay.”
Mayor William Capote defended the council, noting that Mr. Book had several months to file a lawsuit on behalf of the city and did not take action.
“I have all the respect in the world for Mr. Book, but it’s time to move on,” Mayor Capote said.
Mr. Kahn promised the council he would file the lawsuit within seven days, making Palm Bay the first city in Florida to file against Big Pharma in state court.
Big Pharma is the name given to the pharmaceutical industry and manufacturers of opioids, which includes pain pills, tranquilizers, sedatives, hypnotics and stimulants.
The city will not be required to pay any upfront fees for legal services.
“We only get it when you get your money,” said Mr. Kahn. “We don’t get it ahead of time.”
The recovery fee, Mr. Kahn said, will be “substantially less” than what is charged in other personal injury lawsuits, typically 40 percent of the recover amount.
As for the time frame, Mr. Kahn said that the firms that settled with Big Tobacco did so within five years and that’s the model that’s being used across the nation.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” he said. “I’m going to be giving blow-by-blow updates to the city.”
Mr. Kahn first presented the 250-page drafted lawsuit to the council at the April 19 meeting after the matter was placed on the agenda by Councilman Jeff Bailey.
The topic was continued to the May 3 meeting and city staff was directed to reach out to Mr. Book to determine the city’s contractual obligations.
After “playing phone and email tag,” City Manager Gregg Lynk said he finally connected with Mr. Book, who said he would file the complaint on behalf of the city within three days. Mr. Book also issued a reminder that the city had a signed professional services agreement with him.
City Attorney Patricia Smith advised the council that it could legally vote to cancel the contract with Mr. Book and retain the services of Mr. Kahn.