Dave Yost is the elected attorney general of all Ohioans, but he refuses to demonstrate he gets what that means.
He refuses to acknowledge his responsibilities to all of the state’s people and to communities that have borne the brunt of both the cost and hurt of the opioid crisis.
He refuses to hear the swelling chorus of dismay from within his own Republican Party and from key colleagues — including Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
Instead, Yost has ceased being just an alternative version of himself. Alt-Dave has turned into Bigfoot Dave.
Bigfoot Dave seeks to eviscerate Ohioans’ longstanding constitutional right to home rule not just with his sudden efforts to derail nearly 100 local opioid lawsuits but now with an even more audacious attempt to seize control of the national multidistrict federal litigation that’s about to play out in a high-stakes trial in Cleveland.
After years of legal sparring, on Oct. 21, Cuyahoga and Summit counties’ claims are scheduled to go to trial in the U.S. District courtroom of Judge Dan Polster.
Trying to head off that trial — and prevent the awarding to the two counties of any of the $8 billion in damage claims underlying it — is the main focus of Yost’s 285-page Aug. 30 filing at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But his mandamus action also asks the appellate court to compel Polster “to dismiss or limit all claims that seek to remedy societal harms” in the litigation Polster is overseeing, involving claims from about 2,000 local jurisdictions across the nation.
Yost couldn’t be more wrong or more transparent about his real agenda — a power grab over opioid settlement money.
Ohio’s opioid litigation dates to 2017, when DeWine was the attorney general. When Cuyahoga County filed its lawsuit, also in 2017, DeWine made no objections. Rather, he has criticized Yost now, rightly noting that the opioid harm and the costs of mitigating it have been local — so the settlements, by rights, should be local.
But as we said in an earlier editorial, the big money now beckons. Cuyahoga and Summit counties recently reached a tentative $15 million settlement deal with two of the drug makers.
It was after that settlement deal that Bigfoot Dave got busy.
He effectively tried to undo the deal by sending both manufacturers warning letters that their settlements with the two Ohio counties would not preclude vigorous prosecution of Ohio’s separate claims.
He announced he was backing a draft bill in the Ohio legislature that aims to seize control of all opioid litigation in Ohio and deny localities the ability to prosecute their claims. Once DeWine signaled his opposition to that legislation, Yost filed his mandamus action with the 6th Circuit.
What is wrong with this approach?
Cuyahoga County’s top officials — County Executive Armond Budish, County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley and Cuyahoga County Council President Dan Brady — said it best in a joint statement expressing their frustration and disappointment at Yost’s 11th-hour move.
After years of litigation, after years of local trauma, costs and distress tied to the opioid epidemic, Yost was suddenly trying to deny them their right to recoup damages — even as county residents continue to die from opioid overdoses.
“Attorney General Yost needs to look his constituents in the eye,” the statement said, “the coroners, paramedics, officers, first responders, nurses that care for babies with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, when babies withdraw from the drugs they’ve been exposed to in the womb), and the men and women who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into saving their neighbors as they struggled and died by the hundreds from opioids — and tell us why we do not deserve our day in court.”
Why, indeed. Bigfoot Yost is stepping all over the wrong people, his own constituents, his fellow Ohioans, the very people who elected him to his current office, and who expect more from him.