Tobacco lawyers' fees are really smokin'
Wednesday, April 8, 1998
By JAMES LAFFERTY
- BELIEVE IT OR NOT,
Florida and Texas have some things in common.
- They are both "Southern" states. They both boast some
of the largest populations in the country. They both have their state
"pride" -- heaps of it, in fact. Despite all that, some Florida
plaintiffs' lawyers are trying to do everything they can to keep up with
Texas' claim that everything is bigger in the Lone Star State.
- A federal district judge in Texas is now trying to decide if five
lawyers -- count 'em, five -- are worth $2.3 billion for their work in
that state's tobacco settlement. Pretty good pay for only 18 months of
- While it sounds like an astonishing figure, some plaintiffs'
lawyers in Florida are involved in a similar hunt for mega-bucks in the
Sunshine State. There the tobacco pot-o-gold totals $2.8 billion. That's
enough to pay the wealthy 12 Florida lawyers seeking top dollar in it's
tobacco settlement a rate of $7,716 an hour, and that's if they had worked
on the case 24 hours a day for the last three years. Compress their work
day to the normal eight-hour day most Americans work and it amounts to a
whopping $23,148 an hour.
- Those payouts, according to Florida plaintiffs' lawyer Fred Levin,
should be automatic -- a "slam dunk." But not even Shaq O'Neill
or Michael Jordan makes that much an hour.
- Calling the award "unconscionable and clearly
excessive," Palm Beach Circuit Judge Harold Jeffrey Cohen has denied
the lawyers request to collect. And, while some Florida plaintiffs'
lawyers representing the state have decided to accept smaller fees, 12 say
they want their full cut and are appealing the judge's decision. No ruling
is expected for at least several months.
- Curiously, such greed is actually embarrassing other trial
lawyers, something that most Americans probably would have thought
- Richard D. Hailey, the Indianapolis attorney who heads the
60,000-member Association of Trial Lawyers of America, says the courts are
correct to review "excessive and unreasonable" fees.
- However, Florida's attorneys make no apologies for holding out for
the mega-bucks. Bob Montgomery of Palm Beach has been quoted as saying,
"I did not take a vow of poverty when I was sworn into the Bar, nor
did they ask me to."
- Sheldon Schlesinger of Fort Lauderdale told The Miami Herald's
Tropic Magazine: "if at the end, the result was good, we also saw the
potential for some significant fees -- and that's what lawyers like us are
- Indeed, it is. Who can doubt that in the end, the Florida tobacco
attorneys will pocket an exorbitant amount -- certainly running into the
hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.
- It is truly unfortunate that what was supposed to be crusade to
improve public health has turned into a symbol of greed. And, that Florida
has joined Texas in sending the message that, at least for a handful of
lawyers, bigger fees are better, no matter the eventual cost to consumers,
taxpayers and all of society.
- James Lafferty is a former Associated Press and Philadelphia Daily News reporter, who now writes about legal affairs from Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1998 Bergen Record
This is a page in the section entitled Lawyers
Make Billions at Expense of Sick and Dying Smokers in the Web site
entitled Legal Reform Through Transforming the
Discipline of Law into a Science.