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Lansing — A law firm whose namesake family is a powerhouse in Democratic politics will help Michigan's Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, with cases related to the opioid epidemic.

The Farmington Hills-based Sam Bernstein Law Firm will be part of a three-firm team that will work with the Attorney General's office on opioid-related litigation, Nessel's office said Thursday. The other firms were from Dallas and Pensacola, Florida.

The Attorney General's office has selected another team of three law firms to help with PFAS litigation. They are from Chicago, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.  

"We are eager to get to work with these national experts to pursue litigation to protect Michigan residents from chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors that have poisoned our people and our property," Nessel said in a statement. "These firms bring extraordinary skills, experience and resources to the table and will help guide us on some of the most important work we can do for our state."

The Attorney General's office used a months-long and "blinded" selection process to pick the legal teams, according to the press release.

Seven firms or teams of firms responded to a request for bids to assist with opioid litigation. Then four teams were asked to make presentations. A review team presented Nessel with a recommendation but "the actual identities of the firms were not disclosed" to Nessel at that time to "ensure objectivity," according to the Attorney General's office.

The other two law firms that will work with the Sam Bernstein Law Firm on the opioid legal team are Florida-based Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor and Texas-based Baron & Budd.

Members of the Bernstein family have been large financial contributors to Democratic candidates and causes over the years. According to campaign finance disclosures, members of the Bernstein family and the Bernstein Family PAC combined to contribute $30,400 to Nessel's 2018 campaign for attorney general.

Mark Bernstein, son of Sam Bernstein, is a University of Michigan regent and led Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's transition team. His brother, Richard Bernstein, is a Michigan Supreme Court justice.

The office was careful to ensure an objective review of the firms' proposals, said Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

The attorney general "was not aware of which firm was which until a final decision was made and the legal team was then revealed to her," Rossman-McKinney said in an email.

Rossman-McKinney said she didn't anticipate Richard Bernstein's position on the Michigan Supreme Court becoming a conflict.

The three main law firms working with the Attorney General's office on the opioid litigation will have "working relationships" with nine other firms, according to a press release.

The contract says Nessel will have control over all important decisions in cases launched under the contract. And no public dollars have been committed as part of the contract, according to the Attorney General's office.

The firms will "front all necessary costs and be compensated and reimbursed for costs only if there is a recovery," the press release said.

"Costs and fees paid to the firms will come only from amounts paid by defendants and the precise amount paid as a fee will be determined via a mediation panel at the end of the contract," the press release said.

"This consortium of firms creates an incredibly deep bench to help make sure Michigan has the expertise available, under one contract, to handle the wide-ranging issues that are present in this historic litigation," the release added. "While Michigan has only recently engaged these firms, they have been hard at work at the top levels of the existing opioid cases for several years."

The Sam Bernstein Law Firm didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The firm has been representing local governments in lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors over their roles in the opioid epidemic.

On the PFAS litigation, 15 firms or teams of firms responded to requests for bids from the Attorney General's office. The attorney general selected a team made up of Washington, D.C,-based Fields PLLC, Ohio-based Keating, Muething & Klekamp and Illinois-based DiCello Levitt Gutzler.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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