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Legal Report: Washington Settles Suit with Opioid Producer Johnson & Johnson for $149.5 Million

Judicial Decisions

U.S. States

Opioid crisis. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson agreed to a $149.5 million settlement with the state of Washington, bringing an end to a lawsuit that the state filed more than four years ago over the company’s alleged role in the opioid addiction epidemic.

The settlement will be paid in one lump sum within this fiscal year.

Washington state and local governments will dedicate $123.3 million to substance abuse treatment, expanding access to overdose reversal medications and support for pregnant people experiencing addiction, according to the settlement. Half of this amount will be directed to local governments across the state.

The remainder of the settlement will be used to cover costs and fees payable to the state’s attorney general. (Janssen Washington State-Wide Opioid Settlement Agreement, King County Superior Court, 2024)

United States

Fraud. A U.S. federal judge sentenced Samuel Bankman-Fried, founder of the cryptocurrency exchange platform FTX, to 25 years in prison for orchestrating multiple fraud schemes.

Bankman-Fried was previously convicted of defrauding FTX investors of more than $1.7 billion, as well as defrauding lenders to his cryptocurrency trading firm of more than $1.3 billion. The specific charges against Bankman-Fried were wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  

Bankman-Fried used FTX customer funds for his personal use—making investments and political contributions, plus purchasing real estate—and to repay money loaned to his trading firm, Alameda Research. He further defrauded Alameda and FTX investors by presenting false and misleading financial information to hide how the FTX funds were used, inflating FTX’s alleged profitability.

After an FBI investigation, prosecutors charged Bankman-Fried in December 2022. Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas and then extradited to the United States to await trial. He pled not guilty to all charges, but the jury delivered a guilty verdict on 2 November 2023.

Along with the prison sentence, Bankman-Fried will also have to pay $11 billion in forfeiture. (United States v. Bankman-Fried, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1-22-cr-00673, 2024)

Wildfires. Southern California Edison (SCE) agreed to pay $80 million to settle claims that it was responsible for starting the 2017 Thomas Fire that killed two people.

The U.S. Forest Service claimed that the utility’s power lines ignited the fire, which ultimately burned more than 280,000 acres (approximately 440 square miles) throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in California, destroyed more than 1,000 buildings, and killed two people. Parts of the Los Padres National Forest were also damaged in the blaze.

“In Anlauf Canyon, the United States alleged that SCE power lines made contact with each other during a high-wind event, causing heated material to ignite dry vegetation below the conductors,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. “On Koenigstein Road, the United States alleged that an SCE power pole transformer failed and caused an energized power line to fall to the ground, igniting adjacent dry vegetation.”

After private mediation, the utility agreed to the settlement without admitting wrongdoing or fault. The U.S. DOJ filed the suit against Southern California Edison on behalf of the Forest Service. (United States of America v. Southern California Edison Company, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 20-cv-11020-WLH-AS, 2024)

Discrimination. Personal care company Voyant Beauty, LLC, agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit after it fired an employee who is deaf.

In the suit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged that Voyant discriminated against an employee when it fired her on her first day of work after discovering she is deaf. The EEOC claimed that the company assumed that the employee would be unable to safely perform the duties of a production worker at a facility in Illinois, a violation of the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

Along with the financial compensation, Voyant will train management employees on federal laws that ban discriminating a person based on a disability. (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Voyant Beauty, LLC, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, No. 23-cv-14023, 2024)


Czech Republic

Gun control. The Czech Parliament approved an amendment to the nation’s existing Firearms Act, which would close loopholes that allow citizens to easily and legally purchase firearms.

The amendment, which is pending the president’s signature, would go into effect in 2026 and require gun sellers to report suspicious purchases. Doctors, including psychiatrists, would also have access to an online registry of guns and owners with the power to flag individuals buying several weapons.

The amendment will not require a psychological test for gun license applicants.

Lawmakers proposed the amendment in 2017, but it stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Work on the proposal resumed in 2022, with the public renewing its attention on the issue in December 2023 after a graduate student with a history of depression used eight legally purchased firearms to kill 14 people and himself at Charles University in Prague.


Discrimination. Ghana’s Parliament passed a bill that would increase prison sentences for people who identify as LGBTQ or organize gay advocacy groups.

If enacted by President Nana Akufo-Addo, the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Act would allow prison sentences of up to three years for people who identify as LGBTQ convicted of certain romantic or sexual activities with someone of the same sex or other members of these marginalized communities.

The bill would also ban the promotion of LGBTQ activities and teaching children about non-binary genders or other aspects of the LGBTQ community, punishable by six to 10 years in prison. Other aspects of the bill include banning LGBTQ individuals from adopting or fostering children, healthcare for transgender people, same-sex marriage, and sponsoring LGBTQ groups. The bill would also give the government the ability to extradite anyone convicted of these new crimes.

As of press time, the bill was being appealed to the nation’s Supreme Court, and Akufo-Addo has said he will not take action on it unless approved by the Court.


Information security. Japan’s Cabinet approved legislative language that would establish a new system to manage who has special access to classified economic information.

If enacted, the law would require government and private sector personnel requesting access to classified information pass a screening test, which would consider criminal history, personal history, and previous experience in handling information. If approved, the security clearance would be valid for 10 years.

The protected information could include details on economic sanctions, cyberattacks against critical sectors and suppliers, artificial intelligence (AI), and other technology that is under development, even in the private sector, that can be applied to the military.

Approved in late February, the bill also mandates that anyone who leaks information critical to Japan’s economic security can be sentenced to up to five years in prison, as well as a fine of up to ¥5 million ($33,220).

Although widely expected to be enacted, the proposed bill is pending approval from the Diet.


European Union

Cyber resilience. The European Union (EU) Council and Parliament reached a provisional agreement in early March on the Cyber Solidarity Act, which will create a cybersecurity emergency system composed of national cyber hubs. These hubs will be responsible for identifying and acting on cyber threats, supporting various preparedness efforts. The new rules are pending until endorsed by the EU’s Council and Parliament.


Artificial intelligence. The Garante Per La Protezione (GPDP)—Italy’s privacy watchdog—fined the city of Trento €50,000 ($54,225) for violating data protection rules in how it used AI in street surveillance projects.

The GPDP also ordered the city to delete data collected as part of two scientific research projects funded by the EU. The projects attempted to find technology solutions that could improve safety in urban areas. The data collected in these efforts was shared with third parties and “the anonymization techniques used” on the data were insufficient, according to the GPDP.

Other issues with the projects included the city’s failure to fully disclose the possibility of recording private conversations on public streets.

Also of Interest

Security Management is also keeping an eye on the following developing stories, where security intersects with the courts, legislators, and regulatory authorities.

Artificial intelligence. The European Union is expected to approve the world’s first significant set of regulatory rules regarding. The EU AI Act is in its final review stage before its enactment, which would then be followed by EU member states providing individual guidance and implementing the law. The law would regulate the products or services that rely on AI, dependent upon the level of risk it presents.

Espionage. U.S. authorities arrested and charged former Google engineer Linwei Ding with stealing and uploading hundreds of files on AI secrets for a Chinese firm.

Espionage. A UK high court ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not be immediately extradited to the United States, where prosecutors intend to have Assange stand trial for espionage charges. Assange plans to appeal the extradition order to ensure certain standards around how he would be treated if extradited, such as receiving the same First Amendment protections as U.S. citizens.  

Gun control. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a lawsuit between the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Michael Cargill, the owner of Central Texas Gun Works. The suit challenges a rule established by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) banning bump stocks in response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. The Court will determine if bump stocks—gun stocks can be used to alter a semiautomatic firearm so that it fires like a fully automatic firearm—should be criminalized and considered akin to machine guns.

Gun control. A Michigan father is the first person charged with violating a Michigan law that mandates the safe storage of firearms. The charges—which include first-degree child abuse, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and lying to law enforcement—came after the man’s two-year-old daughter shot herself in the head with his revolver one day after the law went into effect.

Hate crime. Daqua Lameek Ritter was convicted of a hate crime, one federal firearms count, and one obstruction count for murdering Dime Doe—a transgender woman. It marks the first conviction of an individual for a hate crime based on a person’s gender identity.

Insider threat. Former Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira pled guilty to leaking intelligence information on Discord. He faces a potential 16-year prison sentence.

Privacy. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is investigating allegations of faulty privacy and data security practices against the social media platform TikTok. The commission is expected to decide within weeks whether to file a lawsuit or seek a settlement.

School shooting. Jennifer and James Crumbley, parents of the Oxford High School shooting gunman, were convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent their son from carrying out an attack that killed four students. Both parents are scheduled for sentencing on 9 April.

Workplace violence. A New Mexico jury found movie armorer and weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the fatal 2021 shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust. Hutchins’ death occurred during a rehearsal on the set. Gutierrez-Reed was found not guilty of tampering with evidence. An attorney said that she will appeal the conviction. Gutierrez-Reed could receive a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.