CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cardinal Health, a drug company being sued by the state Attorney General's Office for allegedly shipping excessive quantities of pain pills to Southern West Virginia, removed former U.S. Sen. Carte Goodwin as its lawyer on the case last spring and hired two attorneys politically connected to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
One of Cardinal Health's new lawyers, Mark A. Carter, headed Morrisey's campaign transition team before the attorney general took office on Jan. 14.
The drug company's other lawyer, Henry Jernigan, contributed $500 to Morrisey's inaugural party fund in January and another $500 to Morrisey's campaign last September.
In June 2012, former attorney general Darrell McGraw filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Health, alleging the Ohio company helped fuel West Virginia's problem with prescription drug abuse. Morrisey, a Republican whose wife lobbies for Cardinal Health, defeated McGraw in the November election
On April 18, Cardinal Health discharged Goodwin, a Democrat who also served as chief counsel to former Gov. Joe Manchin, as the company's defense lawyer and replaced him with Carter and Jernigan, who work for the Dinsmore & Shohl law firm in Charleston, according to a filing submitted by Carter and Jernigan in Boone County Circuit Court.
In late November, Morrisey named Carter as co-chairman of his 26-member transition team "steering committee," a group set up to "offer perspectives on strategies and approaches for managing the West Virginia Attorney General's Office," according to Morrisey's news release at the time.
The following month, a Charleston accountant set up a fund to pay for Morrisey's inaugural party, calling it the "GOP Inauguration Committee."
Cardinal Health contributed $2,500 to Morrisey's inaugural fund in late February, a month after the inaugural ball, according to filings with the Secretary of State.
Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, is a longtime lobbyist for Cardinal Health in Washington, D.C. The pain pill distributor paid her lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel, $400,000 last year, and another $100,000 during the first three months of this year, according to Henry's lobbying disclosure forms.
Capitol Counsel, which Henry owns, gave $5,000 to Morrisey's inauguration committee, according to financial reports filed at the Secretary of State's Office.
Carter gave $500 to Morrisey's campaign in September and $75 to the attorney general's inaugural party fund in January, records show.
Morrisey has said he recused himself from the Cardinal Health case when he took office in mid-January. Morrisey said his chief deputy, Dan Greear, has managed the lawsuit ever since. McGraw's former chief deputy, Fran Hughes, managed the case for McGraw.
In a Gazette-Mail report last week, Morrisey alleged that McGraw spoke to him about the Cardinal Health lawsuit during a campaign stop last year and that McGraw "implied" that he filed the lawsuit against the drug company to retaliate against Morrisey.
McGraw said he never spoke to Morrisey about the Cardinal Health case.
Morrisey did not respond to emails and phone calls last week requesting comment about Cardinal's decision to hire Carter and Jernigan.
Cardinal Health executives donated $4,000 to Morrisey's campaign last year, $3,000 of which came after McGraw's office filed suit against the company, alleging the drug wholesaler was distributing powerful painkillers, such as OxyContin, to "pill mill" pharmacies and doctors in Southern West Virginia.
Doctors prescribed the drugs and pharmacies dispensed them for illegal use, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Cardinal Health knew the pills were being used illegally and profited from West Virginia's prescription drug "epidemic."
Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration suspended Cardinal Health's federal license to distribute controlled substances from its Florida warehouse on charges that the drug company allowed pharmacies to purchase excessive amounts of painkillers. Cardinal appealed, but a federal district court upheld the two-year suspension, finding that Cardinal's actions posed an "imminent danger to the public."
It wasn't the first time the company has gotten into trouble with federal authorities. In 2008, Cardinal Health paid a $34 million fine after the DEA cited the company's Lakeland, Fla., distribution center for failing to notice suspicious orders for the painkiller hydrocodone.
Boone County Circuit Judge William Thompson is presiding over the West Virginia attorney general's lawsuit against Cardinal Health. There has been little activity on the case since Morrisey took office
In a May filing, Morrisey's office requested the cancellation of a case status conference -- to set a trial date, and schedule depositions and other legal proceedings -- before Thompson. Jernigan and Carter signed memos stating that they would not object to postponing the conference with the judge. The status conference has been rescheduled for this fall.
Carter, Jernigan and Cardinal Health spokeswoman Debbie Mitchell did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment this week. Dinsmore & Shohl's managing partner, John Hussell, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Goodwin was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment. Goodwin & Goodwin lawyers Johnny Knisely and Joseph Ward, who assisted Goodwin on the case, also could not be reached.
During his campaign, Morrisey promised to fight prescription drug abuse. In April, Morrisey sent a letter to legislative leaders, asking them to pass a bill that would give his office powers to prosecute prescription drug abuse cases.
West Virginia suffers from the nation's highest drug overdose rate, with most of those deaths caused by prescription painkillers.
Last week, Morrisey announced that he hired a new assistant attorney general, Maryclaire Akers who will "join an existing working group within the office that is evaluating the problems with prescription drug abuse in the state." Akers, a former Kanawha County assistant prosecutor, worked for the state Ethics Commission for the past four months as general counsel, until leaving to join Morrisey's office.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.