Paul J. Hanly Jr., a top litigation attorney who has been the focus of the current statewide litigation against drug companies and others in the supply chain for his role in the deadly opioid epidemic, died Saturday at his Miami Beach home. He was 70 years old.
The cause was anaplastic thyroid cancer, an extremely rare and aggressive disease, said Jayne Conroy, his longtime legal partner.
During his four decades-long career, Mr. Hanly, a class plaintiff attorney, has tried and administered numerous complex legal cases, including terrorist funding for the 9/11 2001 attacks and allegations of the sexual abuse of dozens of boys by a man, who ran an orphanage and school in Haiti.
But nothing compares to the national opioid cases pending in federal court in Cleveland on behalf of thousands of communities and tribes against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid pain relievers. The federal opioid litigation is considered by many to be perhaps the most complex in American legal history – even more intricate and far-reaching than the epic tobacco industry litigation.
The defendants – including everyone in the opioid manufacturing, distribution and dispensing chain – are charged with aggressively marketing pain relievers while downplaying the risk of addiction and overdose. Their actions, Hanly said, contributed to the opioid epidemic that has raged across the country for two decades, killing hundreds of thousands of people who have started abusing pain relievers like OxyContin and switched to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
“This was probably the most complicated set of lawsuits ever to come to court in my tenure,” said Ohio District Judge Dan A. Polster, who oversees the sprawling case, in a telephone interview on Saturday. “I was fortunate to have the best lawyers in the country on all sides, and Paul was one of them.”
“He was an excellent lawyer, an accomplished professional,” added the judge. “He fought hard. He fought fair. And that’s exactly what you want from a lawyer, from a lawyer. “He said that Mr. Hanly was leading” in helping organize and hold the plaintiffs’ side together “.
Mr. Hanly of Simmons Hanly Conroy in New York played a leading role in the litigation as one of three plaintiffs’ attorneys appointed by Judge Polster to handle important aspects of the cases, including negotiations. The others were Joe Rice of Motley Rice, South Carolina and Paul T. Farrell Jr. of Farrell Law, West Virginia.
At the same time, there are several cases of opioid occurring at the state level. Mr. Hanly had also prepared for a lawsuit against manufacturers and dealers due to go on trial next month in Suffolk County, NY
He had long been at the forefront of efforts to hold drug companies accountable. He filed one of the first major lawsuits against Purdue Pharma in 2003 for warning no more than 5,000 patients about the addictive properties of OxyContin. His clients eventually settled for $ 75 million in Purdue. It was one of the few cases where a drug company agreed to pay individual patients who accused them of gently pedaling the risk of addiction.
Mr. Hanly had taken up complex cases with a large number of plaintiffs in the past. Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, he represented some of the families who had lost loved ones on the planes and in the World Trade Center. He also filed a lawsuit to stop the sale of tanzanite, a rough stone used as a cash alternative to fund terrorist activities. This lawsuit was extended to foreign governments, banks, and others who supported al-Qaeda. Parts of it are still pending.
Another major case was a landmark US $ 12 million settlement in 2013 on behalf of 24 Haitian boys who said they were sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz, who ran programs for underprivileged boys, and was subsequently sentenced to 19 years in prison . Mr Hanly said the defendants, including the Society of Jesus of New England, Fairfield University and others, did not properly supervise Mr Perliitz. Mr. Hanly filed additional charges in 2015, bringing the total number of juveniles abused to over 100 between the late 1990s and 2010.
“Paul was an attorney’s attorney,” said Ms. Conroy, his legal partner. She said he was known for his extensive preparation for the process, his creative strategies for the process, and his almost photographic memory of the contents of documents.
He was also known for moving away from the muted grays and blacks of most lawyers to brisk dresses in bright yellows, blues, and pinks. He preferred bespoke styles that were eye-catching yet sophisticated. His two-tone shoes were all handmade.
In a recently published book on the opioid industry, Empire of Pain, Patrick Radden Keefe described Mr. Hanly as “like a lawyer in a Dick Tracy cartoon” with his bold colors and tailored shirts with stiff, contrasting collars. But none of this, Mr. Keefe made clear, diminished his competitive advantage.
“Paul was a man of few words and a tremendous presence,” said David Nachman, who recently retired from the New York attorney general where he was the state’s chief counsel for the state’s opioid case and worked with Mr. Hanly on it to bring case to court in Suffolk County.
“When he walked into a room everyone noticed,” Nachman said via email. “When he spoke, everyone listened and when he smiled, you knew everything would be fine.”
Paul James Hanly Jr. was born on April 18, 1951 in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father held a variety of government posts including assistant director of Hudson County Penitentiary and hospital administrator. His mother, Catherine (Kenny) Hanly, was a housewife.
His family was notorious in New Jersey; Some members had been charged with corruption and spent time in prison. These included his maternal grandfather, John V. Kenny, a former Jersey City mayor and a powerful Democratic chief of Hudson County known as the “Pope of Jersey City” who was jailed in the 1970s after pleading guilty of tax evasion would have.
Mr. Hanly went a different way. He went to Cornell, where his roommate was Ed Marinaro, who later played professional football and later became an actor (best known for “Hill Street Blues”). Mr. Hanly, who played soccer with him, graduated with a major in philosophy in 1972 and received a sports scientist award as Cornell Varsity Football Senior, which combined the highest academic average with outstanding ability.
He earned a Masters in Philosophy from Cambridge University in 1976 and a law degree from Georgetown in 1979. He then worked as a clerk for Lawrence A. Whipple, a judge at the US District Court in New Jersey.
Mr. Hanly’s marriage to Joyce Roquemore in the mid-1980s ended in divorce. He is survived by two sons, Paul J. Hanly III and Burton J. Hanly; one daughter, Edith D. Hanly; a brother, John K. Hanly; and a sister, Margo Mullady.
He began his legal career as a national litigation and settlement advisor with Turner & Newall, a UK asbestos company, one of the world’s largest in its product liability cases. The company was bought by an American company, Federal-Mogul, in 1998. After that, it was overwhelmed with asbestos claims and filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Mr. Hanly and Ms. Conroy spent much of their time negotiating with the plaintiffs’ attorneys. They soon switched to representing the plaintiffs themselves.
“We have come to realize over time that this is more important to us,” said Ms. Conroy, “to ensure that the victims are compensated for what happened.”
Jan Hoffman contributed to the coverage.