Reforms needed to thwart a repeat

Sunday, January 20, 2002

It has been an outrageous saga.

We speak, of course, of the four dozen favored lawyer-contributors hired by Attorney General Jay Nixon to pursue Missouri's case against Big Tobacco. That case has now reached its ignominious conclusion.

An arbitration panel stacked in favor of the plaintiffs' lawyers has awarded fees to Nixon's hand-picked cronies. They are to receive a total of $111 million to be paid out to the five law firms at the rate of $3.8 million a year for 29 years.

These lawyers were signed to a Nixon-designed contract in late June 1998. Five months later, the national tobacco settlement was announced around Thanksgiving. Thus, these fees are being paid to Nixon's friends for five months of work.

As bad as this result is, it would be even worse if Nixon's original contract had been followed, in which the hired lawyers would have been paid $479 million.

It is likely that the three-year legal and legislative battle led by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder resulted in the award being lower than it would otherwise have been. "Highway robbery," Kinder said of the fees. He is right.

The alliance between politically ambitious attorneys general and the trial lawyers is one of the biggest threats to our freedom today.

It is time for the Missouri Legislature to enact tough reforms that will ensure such outrageous rip-offs never happen again.

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