Readers Write Juneau wrong?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2000

L’Observateur / February 23, 2000

DEAR EDITOR: I am writing in response to the recent inaccurate and misleading column by Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

The lawsuit by Louisiana Attorney-General Richard Ieyoub against the tobacco industry was not a class-actiion lawsuit with a coupon settlement.

The only plaintiff in the case, Louisiana, will recover approximately $4.5billion from the settlement in the first 25 years with payments in perpetuity.

The fee award, which is paid by tobacco, not by Louisiana, to counsel representing Louisiana is approximately 6 percent of Louisiana’s recovery in present value terms – in addition to Louisiana’s recovery. This is not a casewhere the client gets “pennies on the dollar while plaintiff attorneys made out like bandits.”The client, Louisiana, was well served and got a tremendous result.

Additionally, the cost and the risk to the client was zero. The contract withthese lawyers and the state read: The State shall not “be responsible for payment of any attorney’s fees to counsel.” The lawyers, however, risksedmillions of dollars in expenses and tens of thousands of man-hours over six years and could have been paid nothing, even after achieving a settlement with historic public health accomplishments and unprecedented financial recovery.

The lawyers presented their case for fees at a contested hearing in a binding arbitration proceeding. A majority of the arbitration panel recognized thatthe Louisiana lawyers made a “significant contribution” to the national litigation, for all 46 states, not just Louisiana. All 46 states will recover over$200 billion in the national litigation, which translates into a fee award to the Louisiana lawyers of less than 1 percent of the total recovery. A lower feeaward would not have resulted in any further recovery to the states, it would have only increased the profits of the tobacco industry, which sells a lethal product that is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

There is nothing wrong with a system that allows the client to put nothing at risk and have a result of epic proportions. The same constitution thatestablishes the system that allowed Louisiana to recover $4.5 billion andprotect the health of its children while putting nothing at risk is the same system that allowed Mr. Juneau to actively oppose this lawsuit. Mr. Juneaufirst attacked this case back in 1994 when he wrote Attorney-General Ieyoub predicting the downfall of economic development in Louisiana if the case proceeded. Mr. Juneau’s predictionwas proven grossly inaccurate lastyear when the Legislature spent hundreds of millions of dollars from the tobacco settlement to balance the state’s budget instead of raising taxes and cutting services. If it were up to Mr. Juneau, the lawsuit would havenever been filed.

Louisiana and its citizens are all better off today because of the efforts of the anti-tobacco litigation team, of which I am proud to be a member. Insteadof criticizing the justice system and the lawyers, Mr. Juneau should take aminute to appreciate the system and realize than more than half of the court system is dedicated to handling contract and property disputes – between corporations – not product liability actions.

Eulis Simien Jr.Baton Rouge

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