Union-Tribune Questions Size of Tobacco Lawyers’ Award
Calling the National Tobacco Arbitration Panel's decision earlier this month to award $637.5 million to the 10 law firms that represented California in the national tobacco settlement "outrageous," a San Diego Union-Tribune editorial urges the Davis administration to "challenge the portion of the fees that may be deemed unreasonable," as allowed by law. The editorial says that the effect of the award -- while not nearly as much as what was awarded to the "even more rapacious" lawyers for Texas and Florida -- is that the "biggest beneficiaries" of the settlement will be the trial lawyers, not the "injured smokers in whose names the legal jihad against cigarette makers was initiated." The editorial calculates that by using a $1,000 per hour fee and accepting the law firms' assertion that they worked a combined 130,000 billable hours on the settlement, the total amount would come to $130 million, or "roughly a fifth of what the arbitration panel actually awarded the law firms." The editorial concludes: "It remains to be seen whether Gov. Gray Davis (D) or Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) or the Legislature will decide to challenge the excessive $637.5 million in legal fees that the tobacco companies will contribute to the trial lawyers' pockets, instead of to the state's treasury. If they blithely go along with the arbitration panel's ill-considered decision, they will deprive the state of an extra half-billion dollars that could be used for antismoking and other health-related programs" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 3/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.