Missouri tobacco lawyers awarded $111.2 million by panel

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Private attorneys will receive $111.2 million from tobacco companies for their role in pursuing the state's lawsuit against the industry, the lead attorney in the case confirmed Tuesday.

A three-person arbitration panel approved paying the team of 48 attorneys $3.834 million a year for 29 years, said lead attorney Thomas Strong of Springfield.

The state will not have to pay any fees to the attorneys.

"The arbitration panel's award verifies that our efforts contributed substantially to the tobacco settlement," Strong said in a statement. "The award of the arbitration panel will convince any fair-minded person that we worked long and hard and that what we did was important for both Missouri and the nation."

Missouri is one of 46 states that settled health-related lawsuits against tobacco companies in November 1998. Missouri's share is projected at $4.5 billion over 25 years. The private attorneys are being paid by through a separate pot of money.

"Missouri will pay us nothing," Strong said. "The tobacco industry will pay our fees."

So far, the arbitration has awarded fees to private lawyers representing 17 states, including $3.4 billion to those in Florida and $24 million to attorneys in New Mexico.

In a filing supporting their payment, the private attorneys had estimated that they would have won up to $130 billion for the state. The report was filed Oct. 24 with the arbitration panel.

The group did not request a specific amount in their filing with the arbitration panel. But the lawyers asked for more than what lawyers in other states had received.

The filing noted that the team of attorneys put up $10 million of their own money in order to take the case. The attorneys spent five months working on the case under a contract with Attorney General Jay Nixon before the national settlement was reached.

Under the original contract with Nixon's office, Strong's team would have received a contingent legal fee equal to 7.15 percent of a potential court settlement.

The lawsuit never reached trial because the state settled its case against tobacco companies, leaving the private attorneys to await a decision from the panel about what they should be paid.

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