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THE BILLION DOLLAR FEE! 

If you thought all the legal battling regarding cigarettes was about health, think again. The real driving force is, as usual,money--and how much of it attorneys can get for themselves.

You may have heard that the state of Florida recently managed to extort $11.3 billion from cigarette manufacturers. But who will really benefit from this settlement, and the many others to come as other states settle their suits against the tobacco industry?

Florida, like every other state, has platoons of lawyers on the state payroll. Apparently Florida thought that state attorneys are incompetent or otherwise unsuited to go after the really big money. So Florida hired not one, not two, but twelve private law firms to pursue the Big Bonanza.

As a result of the Florida settlement the twelve firms were paid twelve million dollars, or a million dollars per firm. But a million dollars a piece is just the down payment. The settlement agreement calls for additional "reasonable attorneys fees" to be decided on by a panel of independent arbitrators.

People who do real work for a living might think that a million dollars per law firm is a generous, not just reasonable, fee. But the lawyers, of course, have an entirely different point of view.

Bob Montgomery, lead private attorney for the state, thinks that a billion dollars, or a hundred million dollars per firm, might just be enough. Montgomery is the Palm Beach attorney who is so rich that the outdoor parking lot to his office has chandeliers.

Even for Montgomery, the exact amount is elusive: he says "my calculator won't go up that high." Montgomery promises to sue the tobacco companies again if they don't pay him what he wants.

(Source: Miami Herald .)

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