Governor Sues Attorney General to Block Tobacco Lawsuit
JACK ELLIOTT JR.
Feb. 17, 1996
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Gov. Kirk Fordice wants the state Supreme Court to order state Attorney General Mike Moore to drop his lawsuit against the tobacco industry over health costs to taxpayers.
Moore sued Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. and 12 other cigarette makers in 1994 in an attempt to recoup Medicaid money spent on indigents with smoking-related illnesses. He has accused the companies of lying and altering research.
Fordice, in suing Friday to block the lawsuit, accused Moore of overstepping his authority. He said Moore's lawsuit is about ``big bucks, big money and big publicity.''
Moore responded that he was ``appalled'' by Fordice's actions, and called the governor an instrument of the tobacco industry, a ``new Marlboro man.''
``Our governor has chosen to take the side of an industry that has lied and killed 425,000 people a year in the past 30 years,'' Moore said.
He said the state spends $100 million a year treating poor people with tobacco-related diseases. ``We don't have a choice whether to treat them or not,'' he said.
Fordice, who has pressed for limits on damage lawsuits, said the issue was not whether cigarettes are harmful, but one of jurisdiction.
Fordice argued that if Moore is attorney for the Medicaid Division and that division is part of the governor's office, then Fordice is Moore's client.
In asking the state's highest court to order Moore to drop the suit, Fordice cited a seldom used state law that allows the justices to halt any lawsuit.
Moore said the Medicaid division is not a party to the lawsuit. He said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of the state of Mississippi.
Moore said the issue of his authority to file the lawsuit was settled last year when a state judge ruled the attorney general is the state's legal officer and has sole right to initiate lawsuits on the state's behalf. The ruling has not been appealed.
Fordice, a conservative Republican, accepted tobacco industry money during his successful re-election bid in November. Moore, a Democrat who won a third term last fall, received campaign contributions from trial lawyers who have filed product liability lawsuits against tobacco companies.
The chief witness in Moore's lawsuit is Jeffrey Wigand, the former Brown & Williamson executive who, in a controversial interview with CBS's ``60 Minutes,'' accused the company's president of lying to Congress about the addictiveness of nicotine.