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VICTOR JOECKS: Ford signs past employer to contract worth up to $350M

Forget the record-high stock market. Politicians are the best investment money can buy. Consider what Attorney General Aaron Ford has done for his former employer, the law firm Eglet Prince.

The story starts in 2015. Ford, serving in the state Senate, owed the IRS more than $185,000 in unpaid taxes, interest and penalties, according to liens filed in 2013 and 2014. Ford, who’s a lawyer, blamed his debt on making partner at Snell and Wilmer.

Trial lawyers had a tough year, too. Newly elected Republican majorities reformed Nevada’s construction defects law. Then, state Sen. Greg Brower successfully capped at $10 million the maximum fee a private legal firm could earn by representing state government.

“Every dollar that the lawyers are paid, the state loses,” Brower said.

His logic was hard to argue with. His bill passed unanimously — including with the support of Ford. But Brower’s cap on damages wouldn’t last long.

In 2015, Eglet Prince hired Ford as a partner. In early 2016, Ford found the money to settle his six-figure debt with the IRS. That’s circumstantial evidence that Eglet Prince handsomely compensated Ford. But why?

A potential answer dropped in 2017, when Ford was Senate majority leader. During the last day of the session, Ford assisted in passing an amendment killing the $10 million cap on outside attorney fees. The new cap was a whopping 25 percent of damages. The amendment was placed into an occupational licensing bill sought and eventually signed by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval.

Shortly after the session, Robert Eglet — namesake of the firm at which Ford still worked — met with then- Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office. Eglet wanted Laxalt to hire his firm on behalf of the state to sue opioid manufacturers. Laxalt declined, preferring to pursue a multi-state settlement. Eglet bided his time.

In 2018, Ford was elected attorney general, and Steve Sisolak became governor. Within weeks, Sisolak, in consultation with Ford, had decided that Nevada needed outside counsel to sue opioid makers. Ford recused himself from the selection process, given the obvious conflict of interest.

To no one’s surprise, Eglet Prince received the contract. Seven people evaluated nine competing offers. The three that work in the attorney general’s office gave Eglet Prince the high score among the three final choices. Three of the four people who don’t work for Ford gave their highest score to the Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman &Rabkin, LLP. Eglet Prince scored worse than that firm but leaped ahead after receiving a 5 percent bonus for being based in Nevada.

Earlier this week, Ford released the contract his office gave to Eglet Prince. If a case goes to discovery, the firm will receive 19-21.5 percent of damages, up to $350 million. If a future attorney general wants to cancel the contract, he’ll have to pay at least $700 an hour for all work the firm has done.

Say, Eglet Prince paid Ford as much as $1 million from 2015 to 2018. Thanks to Ford, the law firm increased its potential earnings on the opioid lawsuit from $10 million to $350 million. Now that’s return on investment.

To the public, it looks like insider trading.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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