S.C. Lawyers Get $82.5M Tobacco Case Fee

An $82.5 million fee awarded to lawyers representing South Carolina against Big Tobacco was “fair and reasonable,” two panelists who set the amount said.

But a third member of the Tobacco Fee Arbitration Panel, which ruled on the fees following a $2.6 billion settlement, said the award was “grossly excessive.”

Under a $206 billion settlement between 46 states and Big Tobacco over health care costs, South Carolina will receive $2.3 billion over 25 years as well as $357 million in economic aid to tobacco growers.

Panel chairman John Calhoun Wells and member Harry Huge praised the eight law firms involved in the 1997 case, saying they had been “torchbearers for not just the South Carolina tobacco farmers but the tobacco farmers in all the states.”

‘Windfall’ for Lawyers

But dissenting panelist Charles Renfrew, a former U.S. district judge appointed by the tobacco industry, said he was “baffled by the size of the award” and called it “a windfall to South Carolina outside counsel.”

The panel’s decision was released Monday.

Massive legal fees have become commonplace in big tobacco settlements.

In the last few years, five Texas firms received $3.3 billion from a $17.3 billion settlement; attorneys in Arkansas demanded $243 million in fees from a $1.6 billion settlement; and three Wisconsin firms billed a total of $840 million for their work on a case which ended in a $5.9 billion settlement.