NEW YORK — Lawyers who represented New York in the landmark $206-billion settlement between the tobacco industry and 46 states have been awarded $625 million in fees by the Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel.
The industry will have to pay the legal fees on top of New York's $25-billion share of the 1998 settlement, which will be paid over 25 years. The three-member panel was appointed to decide how to fairly compensate attorneys for the states.
Panel chairman John C. Wells and attorney Harry Huge, who was picked by the New York lawyers, praised the work of the counsel for New York. The state played a key role in the settlement and won more than 12% of the award, the two panelists said.
A third panelist, former U.S. District Judge Charles Renfrew, balked at the size of the award. Renfrew, who was appointed by the tobacco industry, called the amount "grossly excessive."
The panel praised the New York lawyers for the "Herculean effort" of securing an early trial date. The New York lawyers reviewed more than 10 million documents in 90 days and produced more than 3 million documents, the panel said.
The panelists also noted that the New York lawyers' fees were "wholly contingent on recovery," and that the attorneys spent $2.4 million of their own money.
Last month, lawyers who represented Michigan in the tobacco litigation were awarded $450 million by the fee panel. Renfrew was a dissenter in that decision as well, calling the award "shocking."
The New York fee brings to $12.4 billion the amount awarded by the arbitration panel to lawyers representing 18 states. Lawyers representing nine other states have made separate settlements totaling about $660 million.