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October 3, 2003

Missouri Lawyers Came Late to the Party, Still Get an $111 Million Slice of the Tobacco Fee Pie

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:47 am

A five-year battle to reduce fees received by lawyers representing Missouri against Big Tobacco ended this week.  The Missouri high court refused to hear an appeal awarding $111 million to private attorneys hired just 5 months before a settlement was reached in the multi-state case against the tobacco industry.  (AP/Jefferson City News TribuneCourt turns down appeal of tobacco attorney fees,” 10-02-03, via Daily News WireOct. 3, 2003)  The five politically-connected latecomers, originally wanted $480 million for their tagalong suit.  


The lower court had rejected claims that the attorneys should not have been paid more than state assistant attorneys general ($99,000 a year max.), holding that they were “special assistant attorneys general.”  According to the News Tribune article, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who had hired the outside firms, stated that “The decision by the Supreme Court not to take the case is neither surprising nor noteworthy in our view.” has been closely following this case for the past few years.  Click here for coverage dated June 5, 2001, which includes this commentary:

When it came to the role it played in the multistate tobacco litigation, Missouri “didn’t need red-hot lawyers. Our lawsuit was what’s called a tagalong suit.  We were the 27th state to sue the tobacco companies. A national settlement was already in the works. … Five months after Team Missouri was assembled, [it] was reached.”  But that didn’t stop the lawyers who represented the state — some of whom “were distinguished more for their political connections than their legal track records”– from asking for a cool $480 million in fees, though they later declared themselves willing to settle for $100 million

Click here for Overlawyered’s Sept. 21, 2000 posting (unfortunately, many of the linked articles are no longer available), and here for the Oct. 5, 2003 update.

Comment [3] to Rule 1.5(a) of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, concerning the requirement that a legal fee be reasonable, states that “When there is doubt whether a contingent fee is consistent with the client’s best interest, the lawyer should offer the client alternative bases for the fee and explain their implications.”   I would have loved to hear that conversation between lawyer and client.

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