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NM opioid case to be heard by in-state jury

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state Attorney General’s Office has succeeded in keeping its lawsuit against opioid pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesale distributors in state court, despite the push from corporate attorneys to have the suit moved to federal court in Ohio.

Now, if the case were to go to trial, it would be New Mexicans — not jurors in Ohio — hearing whether the corporations “ignit(ed) an opioid epidemic” by deceptive marketing practices and ignoring what they should have known were suspicious prescribing practices.

Had the manufacturers won, the case would have been, basically, lumped in with at least 400 other lawsuits (and possibly as many as 643) from local, state and tribal governments and others around the nation targeting opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Most of those suits are being heard in the Ohio federal court jurisdiction, where Cardinal Health manufacturing company is located. That company is one of five main companies named in most of the suits, including New Mexico’s.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ prosecutors argued in their court documents that they are suing the manufacturers because they violated state laws, not federal laws, and so the case should be heard in a state court, where it was filed in September 2017.

Pharmaceutical attorneys, though, claimed Balderas’ suit targets the manufacturing and shipping of the opioid pharmaceuticals and that falls under federal scrutiny.

Federal Judge Judith Herrera of Albuquerque ruled Tuesday that the case would not be heard in federal court and would stay where it was originally filed: in the state’s 1st Judicial District in Santa Fe.

“I’m pleased the federal court saw through the multi-billion dollar corporation’s play so quickly and sent our case back to Santa Fe where it belongs,” Balderas said in a statement.