TOBACCO SETTLEMENT: State, Localities Agree To Divide Money
According to a deal brokered Thursday between Attorney General Dan Lungren's office and lawyers representing local governments, "California cities and counties will share equally with the state in any settlement of their lawsuits against the major tobacco companies," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The lawsuit against Big Tobacco was filed in 1996 and lists as plaintiffs the state, 18 municipalities "and four public health organizations" (Gembrowski, 8/8). The Los Angeles Times notes that in "mid-July, a judge in San Diego consolidated" the major cases, to be either litigated or settled as one case. Other state attorneys general are currently in another round of negotiations with the tobacco industry in an effort to settle their individual suits en masse, a deal that could be worth $200 billion -- $23 billion to California alone (Weinstein, 8/8). "Cities and counties carry a big burden on fixing what the tobacco industry has wrought," said Patrick Coughlin, an attorney for San Francisco (Lite, AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/8). The San Francisco Examiner reports that out of the 37 state suits still remaining to be settled, last week's deal "marked the first time that any [state] has cut such a deal with cities and counties."
One For You, Two For Me
San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne said, "There's still a long way to go. This is a positive step, we think. We have agreed to work together and it says whether or not there's a settlement, if there's any monies, the state will have 50% and local governments will take the other 50%." Specifically, the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose would be entitled to 10% of the funds, while 40% would be split among the state's 58 counties (Lewis, 8/8). Los Angeles County would receive $2.8 billion over 25 years, while $725 million would go to Orange County, $200 million to Ventura County and $825 million to San Diego County (Los Angeles Times, 8/8). The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Renne "already has her eye on using the city's share to settle a major public health issue -- how to fix Laguna Honda Hospital" (Johnson, 8/8). "This allows the cites and counties the freedom to decide the best way to spend their money," according to Tracey Buck-Walsh, an assistant state attorney general (Union-Tribune, 8/8). Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, however, cautioned against being too optimistic about a settlement. "It's remarkable that the biggest local government entities in California have managed to agree to an apportionment of money that may not exist at all," he said (Los Angeles Times, 8/8).