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Friday, May 3, 2013

"Et Tu, Eric"? Holder, Oxys, and Honorable Men

Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. is the 82nd Attorney General of the United States, in office since 2009. Holder, serving in the administration of President Barack Obama, holds the distinction of being the first African American U.S. Attorney General.

Holder previously served as a judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and a United States Attorney. Later, he was Deputy Attorney General of the United States and worked at the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. He was senior legal advisor to Senator Barack Obama during Obama's presidential campaign and one of three members of Obama's vice-presidential selection committee.

In May 2008, while still in private practice, Legal Times magazine named Eric Holder as one of the “Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Past 30 Years," describing Holder as one of the "Visionaries."  Also in that year, Holder was named by the National Law Journal as one of “the 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America.” The National Law Journal commended Holder's practice in the areas of civil litigation and white-collar defense, as well as his work as a national co-chair for Obama's campaign.

In June 2009 the Government of Barbados announced that it would begin a project to determine the first 100 Great Barbadians which would be selected among the public of Barbados. At the announcement of the project it was announced that Eric Holder was the first candidate to be nominated toward the final list.

In August 2012, the National Urban League named Holder as a recipient of their "Living Legend" award.

As you can see, Eric Holder is a distinguished, accomplished man considered by many to be worthy of the powerful office of Attorney General.

However, let me tell you about one of his past dealings with Big Pharma.

West Virginia Vs. Purdue Pharma

In 2001, Darrell McGraw Jr., the longtime Democratic attorney general of the state of West Virginia, filed a civil case against Purdue Pharma in 2001, the manufacturer of OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller approved for serious pain treatment. He alleged that the company had engaged in "coercive and deceptive" marketing of OxyContin.

McGraw charged that Purdue had disseminated misleading advertisements and had promoted the inappropriate use of OxyContin for minor pain. His lawsuit contended that Purdue had offered doctors free trips to "pain management" seminars where the firm pitched the drug as safe and effective for treating minor pain--without mentioning the drug was supposed to be used only for severe pain and easily abused.

McGraw also alleged that Purdue had told "pharmacists that they can get in trouble if they do not fill prescriptions, even if they believe someone may be an abuser of the drug." He maintained that the firm's underhanded practices had caused users in West Virginia to become addicted to the drug. And he noted that while Purdue's annual sales revenue from OxyContin had surpassed $1 billion, the state of West Virginia was saddled with the cost of treating people who had become addicted due to misuse of the drug encouraged by Purdue.

Of course, Purdue had a lot to lose, so they turned to Eric Holder while he was with Covington and Burling. An excellent choice? Read what Covington says about their reputation:

"Covington has one of the world's most active and respected Pharmaceutical Litigation and Investigations Practices, with over 110 firm lawyers engaged in this work. Drawing on the expertise of the firm's pre-eminent FDA regulatory practice, our litigators have helped guide some of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies through all aspects of difficult investigations and lawsuits. Covington represents more pharmaceutical companies in more criminal and civil investigations by federal and state government agencies, including high-profile congressional inquiries -- such as the Food & Drug Administration, the Department of Justice, Congress, and State Attorneys General -- than any firm in the country. Our litigation experience is broad, encompassing many areas including, suits under the False Claims Act, product liability litigation, patent litigation, pricing and antitrust litigation, litigation with federal agencies, and insurance coverage disputes."


The Negotiations

In November 2004, the morning that the case was about to go to trial, Holder helped negotiate a settlement. Working in the judge's chambers in West Virginia, he forged an agreement under which the firm would have to pay $10 million over four years into drug abuse and education programs in West Virginia. Purdue would not have to admit any wrongdoing. (Days earlier, the firm had offered the state about $2 million to settle; McGraw had turned down Purdue and had not bothered to produce a counter-offer.)

Eric Holder managed to keep the criminal activity of Purdue Pharma quiet since there would be no trial and no documents or testimony to be made public. Thus, the settlement was a big win for the company.

Ten million dollars was a "drop-in-the-bucket" amount compared to what Purdue was reaping from OxyContin sales. More important, this settlement helped keep the lid on the firm's criminal activities -- no trial and no public release of documents or testimony about the company's actions, which were already being investigated by federal prosecutors.

You see, in late 2002, the Feds had begun an investigation of Purdue, with the first of what would be nearly 600 subpoenas for corporate records related to the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of OxyContin.

Did Holder’s hands "in the pockets of Purdue Pharma” allow this epidemic of OxyContin death and addiction throughout the country to perpetuate? Read the evidence.

The "Deal"

In May 2007, the company and its three top executives pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraudulently marketing OxyContin by claiming it was less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal symptoms. Purdue and the three execs agreed to pay fines of $634.5 million. At the time, US attorney John Brownlee summed up the case:
"Even in the face of warnings from health care professionals, the media, and members of its own sales force that OxyContin was being widely abused and causing harm to our citizens, Purdue, under the leadership of its top executives, continued to push a fraudulent marketing campaign that promoted OxyContin as less addictive, less subject to abuse, and less likely to cause withdrawal. In the process, scores died as a result of OxyContin abuse and an even greater number of people became addicted to OxyContin; a drug that Purdue led many to believe was safer, less abusable, and less addictive than other pain medications on the market."
Just a "Lawyer"?

You may say  Eric  Holder did nothing wrong -- in the legal or ethical sense. You my say, "He was merely working for a wealthy client. Corporate miscreants do have the right to legal representation."

Yet, Holder had no obligation to become a hired gun after leaving the Justice Department. True, he would have had to get by on perhaps $250,000 or so a year, but he would have continued a life of service.

When money becomes the #1 priority, many Democrats and Republicans leave the public interest behind. Many of the people who follow this sort of path like to continue to define themselves by their public deeds. They assume they can easily move back and forth between public service and private service--and they are right. In Washington, public officials are not snubbed or denigrated when they become private profiteers. When it's time for them to return to public life, it's usually no big deal. The capital's revolving door spins people into and out of government.

Holder may well become a good attorney general. Yet, someday when all his rather impressive accomplishments will be noted, there won't be any mention of the Purdue Pharma victims and the highly-paid work Holder did to protect the people and company who caused their suffering.

The Bottom Line

Eric Holder’s big deal thus perpetuated addictions, overdoses, deaths, and false assurances that a powerful narcotic was safe to use for mild injuries. That cannot be denied.

In order to avoid criminal charges on behalf of his client, Purdue Pharma, as well as minimize losses, Holder negotiated a settlement concealed within the judge’s chambers in West Virginia. He effectively quashed the release of damaging documents and criminal evidence that would have exposed his client, Purdue Pharma as being responsible for marketing and distributing a dangerous drug.

Clearly, Holder's hungry hands were "deep in the pockets of Purdue Pharma," and he was willing to actually prolong the suffering caused by their potent drug by banning trial hearings and criminal proceedings.

(Marianne Skolek, "Eric Holder Negotiated an OxyContin Settlement in West Virginia - Working for Purdue Pharma!", June 1 2011)
Eric Holder has served both his corporate and government masters well. His salary jumped from under $200,000 as deputy U.S. Attorney General for the Clinton administration to more than $2 million a year as a Covington & Burling senior partner.

During 2008, Holder spent countless hours away from his corporate office working for the Obama campaign -- raising money, fielding calls, making speeches. “I hope the management committee is going to be real understanding when they see my billable hours this year,” Holder joked to The American Lawyer.

Of course, poor, noble Holder now returns to a more modest $186,000 salary as Obama’s attorney general. But, just consider Covington & Burling reportedly made him a separation payment valued at between $1 million and $5 million, plus a repayment of up to $1 million from the firm’s capital account, plus a retirement plan of up to $500,000. His net worth: $5.7 million.

In the end, what a great investment both Holder, his law firm, the government and Purdue made. The Washington revolving door pays... in so many ways and for so many privileged corporations and individuals.

Eric Holder -- a visionary, a living legend, an honorable man, an Attorney General. I wonder if Holder might act as a good "Brutus." This reminds me of a Shakespearean play in more ways than one. These lines from Julius Caesar (Act 3, Scene II) keep coming to mind:


"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me...


"But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there.
And none so poor to do him reverence."

"There are a whole variety of reasons I want to be attorney general, a whole variety of things that I do as attorney general
that go beyond national security."

--Eric Holder

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