Lawyers awarded $111.2 million

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- 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 48-lawyer team more than $3.8 million a year for 29 years, said lead attorney Thomas Strong of Springfield. The lawyers were drawn from five law firms.

"The arbitration panel's award verifies that our efforts contributed substantially to the tobacco settlement," Strong said in a statement.

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 through a separate pot of money.

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

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 fees equal to 7.15 percent of the state's winnings, or about $479 million, Strong said. But in March 1999 the attorneys released the state from that arrangement and agreed to seek money through the arbitration panel.

'Highway robbery'

Critics of Strong and the attorneys include Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, who had challenged the legality of the contract between Nixon and the lawyers.

Kinder has said the private lawyers came to the case late and has claimed the lawyers were hired because they donated more than $500,000 to mostly Democratic political candidates and parties during an eight-year period.

"I hope the pressure we brought legislatively on the matter of fees paid tobacco attorneys helped to drastically reduce the costs," Kinder said Tuesday. "However, $111 million for five months work is highway robbery."

Kinder said while the lawyers will average $2.3 million each for their work, the average Missourian earns $11,327 for five months work.

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