Take a pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes

by Richard Thomas

St. Louis County will join other municipalities across the country in suing drug companies that manufacture and market opioid prescription drugs. On Nov. 14 County Attorney Mark Rubin introduced a resolution to get the commissioners’ OK to proceed with the lawsuit. 
The county plans to hire an outside private law firm, yet to be determined, and hopefully recover at least some of the cost to taxpayers in dealing with the drug problem. The law firm would not charge money up front, but would take a 25 percent fee if the county gets anything.
Commissioners heaped praise on Rubin for boldness, courage, leadership, etc. But one — Tom Rukavina, naturally — threw a healthy dose of skepticism on the proceedings. 
“You, know, nobody’s going to be against this resolution, because it’d be like being against mom and apple pie,” he said.
At first Rukavina gave a rambling speech on his own brief experience with opiates to treat back pain (“I took one, it made me goofier than I normally am”) and about how the way to fix the drug scourge is to give people hope, education and careers. (“You can sue anybody you want, you’re not gonna solve the problem.”) But then he questioned the 25 percent contingency, a figure determined before the outside law firm is even hired.

“Why am I here? I read this morning’s Mesabi Daily News, you made front page. Attorney Rubin looked great in the picture and it said we’re gonna pass this thing. Well, yeah, I know we’re gonna pass it, who’s gonna be against going after the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve never liked it from the day I was old enough to know better.
“But where’s that’s settlement, if it comes, gonna go? Because this board’s gotta be the one to raise taxes to take care of the problem. And I don’t like the fact that you’re the only one that gets to decide this, that it’s at your discretion. Because I think we should remain informed, I think Commissioner [Patrick] Boyle should be on a committee and track this for us, and maybe a northern commissioner could be on there too, so we know what’s going on.

“I don’t want a big settlement to be in another fund at the attorney’s office or at the sheriff’s office and there are several of those funds. You have a budget of $8 million, you get $2.5 million from other sources, I don’t even know what they are, you only get $5.5 million approximately on the levy. You have a bunch of different, I guess, sources, money from forfeitures and other things that we never see. 

“So my concern is, I do not want to see if there is a big settlement, that settlement just goes in some rabbit hole. Well, I want us to have control over it. We are the final say in this county. We are both the executive branch, I guess, and legislative branch, so to speak … And I don’t like the ‘at your discretion.’ We go out for bid on all other things.”

Rukavina noted his time as state legislator, when he was on the committee doling out money from the big tobacco settlement years back. “We gave it to this group, that group and I don’t know if there’s any of it left, and I’d hate to see that happen if we get a great settlement. I’d like to see that money put somewhere where it can be used on and on and on, year after year, to do good things and to help us out with this terrible situation.”

There was a 5-minute recess. Then board president Frank Jewell reminded Rubin, “I think you were asked a question, a number of them.”
Rubin’s response was curt and hurt: “This is your lawsuit; it’s not mine, okay? I’m doing it on behalf of you and the people of the county, okay? Number two, any kind of settlement, obviously we’ll come and talk to you. So a lot of the questions are good, I get it, these are questions that will be addressed as we proceed in closed session in an attorney-client type situation.”

The resolution passed unanimously, but, it should be noted, with some reservation.

RIP, Lawrence Yetka

Cloquet native Lawrence Yetka, who served on the Minnesota Supreme Court 1973-1993, and was previously the Cloquet city attorney and a Minnesota state representative, passed away Nov. 12 at age 93. Cloquet resident Kenneth Johnson recalls meeting Yetka in the early 2000s, when Johnson was chair of the Cloquet Zoning Board and Yetka applied for a variance for a backyard project. 

According to Johnson, “There were three criteria which needed to be met to qualify and his request clearly qualified on all three counts, but Mr. Yetka, careful lawyer that he was, had prepared his case as though for a court of law. I could see we might be in for a drawn-out affair, so I interrupted his preamble by saying, ‘Mr. Yetka, in my opinion, you are eminently qualified to get your variance.’ The other members quickly concurred and it passed unanimously. I can’t help feeling that he felt a little cheated.”