Legal Fee Awarded in the State Tobacco Suits and Other Mass Tort and Class Action Cases Face New Ethics and Legal Challenges
October 1, 2002Margaret A. Little
Some recent court proceedings that have received little attention in the mainstream news media suggest that the enormous wealth transfers to trial lawyers that have taken place in the context of class action, tobacco, and other suits brought by or on behalf of government entities – usually the states – are coming under new and refreshing critical legal scrutiny. In Manhattan, Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos has asked the New York attorney general’s office and several law firms awarded $625 million in attorney’s fees by the Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel – reportedly $13,000 per hour – as part of New York State’s $25 billion tobacco settlement to explain why this fee award should not be set aside. Justice Ramos, who has raised the issue sua sponte, noted that the arbitrators who awarded such enormous fees may have “manifestly disregarded well established ethical and public policies.” Justice Ramos suggested that his court had the power not only to set aside the award of such fees, but to vacate the entire $25 billion state settlement, approved by another judge in 1998, if such action was warranted.