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Home / Articles / News / Cover Story /  Feature | Drug Deal: Siegfried & Jensen attorneys landed a huge drug case contract from Utah’s Attorney General. Did their hiring of Mark Shurtleff’s daughter seal the deal? Page 1
Cover Story

Feature | Drug Deal: Siegfried & Jensen attorneys landed a huge drug case contract from Utah’s Attorney General. Did their hiring of Mark Shurtleff’s daughter seal the deal? Page 1

By Eric S. Peterson
Posted // September 24,2008 -

Joseph Steele, senior partner in the high-profile personal injury law firm Siegfried & Jensen, will tell you that combined decades of experience made him and fellow attorney Matthew Garretson the natural choice to help represent the State of Utah in a massive class-action lawsuit against the makers of the drugs Zyprexa and Vioxx.

Steele waged whopping lawsuits against asbestos-company bosses in the ’80s. Garretson, an Ohio lawyer, has vast experience in fighting Medicaid fraud. What else might explain why Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff made a beeline for them when hiring help on the cases?

Thousands of plaintiffs across the country have alleged both Zyprexa and Vioxx caused serious side effects their manufacturers intentionally hid from consumers—an increased risk of heart attack with the arthritis pill Vioxx, and dangerous weight gain with the widely prescribed antipsychotic Zyprexa. Several states have joined a lawsuit, hoping to win damages on behalf of people who took the pills—many of them poor, homeless and recipients of Medicaid.

In pursuing action against these drug makers on behalf of the state of Utah, Shurtleff had to hire lawyers beyond his own staff to help fight to recover money for the state’s Medicaid program. The payback may be upwards of tens of millions of dollars. With experienced law firms to choose from in Utah and across the nation, ultimately Shurtleff didn’t need to look any farther than the back of the phone book.

Shortly before Siegfried & Jensen’s Steele secured the contract, the firm hired Ambra Gardner, Shurtleff’s daughter, to work as a paralegal. She came to the job with no previous experience, sources say. For less than a year, she was the top paralegal in the firm’s mass-torts division, working on cases like Zyprexa and Vioxx.

Sitting inside his third-story office at Siegfried & Jensen in Murray, Steele says employing Gardner at the firm had no influence on the attorney general’s decision awarding the contract. “No,” says Steele, quietly, shaking his head. “We’re competent to do it. We’re doing it in a way that’s scientific, and that’s rational. Frankly, we are the only ones that have managed to get the job done.”

But a question remains: Was Steele’s firm the only firm to get the job done because it was the only one offered the job?

Instead of opening a bid process where competing firms would pitch their expertise to the state, the lucrative prescription-drug-case contracts were awarded on a no-bid basis. Deputy Attorney General Raymond Hintze, Shurtleff’s point man on Zyprexa, says the Attorney General’s Office was only in contact with five firms as potential candidates. Hintze also says his office approached only one firm directly as a potential hire; the other four approached the state after hearing about the legal auditions through the professional grapevine. Siegfried & Jensen’s Steele headed up one of these efforts through the affiliated Garretson Steele law firm, which would subcontract help on the state cases to several other Siegfried & Jensen attorneys—including founding partner Mitch Jensen.

Arguing the awarding of the contract solely on merit and legal experience, Steele did not mention the fact that Siegfried & Jensen has provided a steady flow of campaign contributions to Shurtleff’s re-election effort in the past two years. Campaign finance disclosure forms show the firm donated $30,000 since 2006, when the state contracts were granted. Another $5,000 came to Shurtleff in the months just before the contracts were formally signed—approximately the same time period his daughter was hired.

Maybe these near-simultaneous events—the generous campaign contributions, his daughter’s employment and the awarding of the legal contracts—were simply a bad coincidence for the attorney general.

“Bad coincidence?” Shurtleff asks a City Weekly reporter. “Maybe, if you’re trying to write a sensational story, it is.”

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 30,2008 at 08:47 Like I said earlier, Interesting, if you don’t see a problem with a state contract being let by Mark Shurtleff to a firm that employed Ambra Shurtleff, then you need to vote for McCain/Palin, ’cause Mayor Palin runs Alaska on the fumes of that kind of favoritism, cronyism and generally unethical behavior.nnScrew the CW story, Interesting. Screw it to death. Just look at the facts at hand and tell me with a straight face that you don’t see why taxpayers look down on this kind of sweetheart deal.nnIf this were a $1,000 state contract for an hour’s-worth of minor legal advice, big deal. But this involves far, far more than that, doesn’t it?nnAnd the behavior isn’t forgiven because the information came from ex-employees. nnThey whistle-blew.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 29,2008 at 04:46 The way [you] heard it... is much different from the way I SAW it. Just like Peterson, you are putting too much weight in the lies of others. You can contact any paralegal that was there during her employment and any of them will tell you that she sat in a cubicle (on the east side of the first floor). As for going on the record you think that me posting my name or title on a comment board is going on the record? If Peterson had done his journalistic duty and asked anyone other than disgruntled past employees, then maybe I would be on the record. Unfortunately, I was never contacted and so here I am posting the TRUTH on a comment board. Peterson doesn’t reveal his sources and you clearly believed him. You post your name and the names of the sources that you heard it from, maybe I will follow and who knows, maybe even Peterson go back and do what he should have done the first time around, seek out and tell the truth. Let’s be honest though, you aren’t going to do that and neither is he.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 28,2008 at 21:38 By the way. City Weekly has contacted S&J almost everyday over the past month to try to get them to advertise with them. It looks like since S&J didn’t bite at the black mail this non-factual story went to print. nnAlso by the way. Joe Steele is not an S&J partner. He is of counsel as he is with many other firms in town. S&J has zero contracts with Attorney General Shurtleff or the state.nnThis story was brought about by several employees who were fired at the end of last year for being disrespectful worthless assholes who were a drain on the firms moral and money. They can’t move on with their lives.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 28,2008 at 16:07 All real lawyers know that Utah Rule of Professional Responsibility 1.5 e(2) states:nne) A division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if: nn(e)(1) the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation; nn(e)(2) the client agrees to the arrangement, including the share each lawyer will receive, and the agreement is confirmed in writing; andnn(e)(3) the total fee is reasonable. nnAccording to the article Senior S&J partner Steele, however, says no formal agreements have been made yet. “If we ever make any money out of this thing, I guess we’ll figure it out then.”nnThis lack of agreement and approval by the client appears to run counter to the rule and should be investigated. Leave it to the TV lawyers to screw it up.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 28,2008 at 15:57 If you were there then why hide your identity? The way I heard it she never stopped at a cubical. In fact she passed over other paralegals that were already waiting for an office.nnIf you have something to say, do it on the record!

 

 
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