Panel Slashes Award to Attorneys Who Helped States in Tobacco Suit

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Byline: Steve Warmbir Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer

Law firms seeking more than $900 million for representing Illinois in its court battle against Big Tobacco were shot down Thursday when an arbitration panel slashed the final award to $121 million.

The Seattle law firm of Hagens & Berman, which filed lawsuits on behalf of 13 states seeking reimbursement of Medicaid expenses from major tobacco companies, is expected to receive 70 percent of the award - or $84.7 million.

The politically connected Chicago law firm of Freeborn & Peters, which employs former Republican U.S. Attorney Fred Foreman, is expected to receive 30 percent - or $36.3 million, under an agreement it has with Hagens & Berman.

Foreman said Thursday night he had not read the decision and had no comment on it.

The legal fees are paid by the tobacco companies, in addition to the $9.1 billion Illinois will be paid over the next 25 years as part of a settlement reached last November.

In all, 46 states will receive $206 billion in the settlement.

The fees awarded to the attorneys representing Illinois in the litigation ranks fifth out of six awards so far.

Attorneys representing Florida received $3.4 billion. Texas attorneys got $3.3 billion; Mississippi, $1.4 billion; Massachusetts, $775 million; and Hawaii, $90.2 million.

An arbitration panel, set up in the November settlement, makes the awards when law firms and tobacco companies cannot agree on legal fees. The panel issues decisions explaining the legal fees, and its rulings are binding. …