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Tobacco lawsuit withstands challenge from Mississippi governor

March 13, 1997

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Gov. Kirk Fordice’s effort to stop a $940 million lawsuit brought against the tobacco industry by his own attorney general was rebuffed Thursday by Mississippi’s Supreme Court.

The high court said Fordice should have taken his challenge to a lower court first.

The lawsuit against the tobacco industry is scheduled to go trial June 2.

``This is a big victory for the attorney general and our fight against the tobacco industry,″ assistant attorney general Trey Bobinger said. ``We are absolutely free and clear to try our case against the tobacco industry.″

There was no immediate comment from the governor.

Attorney General Mike Moore, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit against 13 cigarette makers in 1994 to recover money the state spent to treat Medicaid recipients for smoking-related illnesses. He said he sued on behalf of the state and did not need the governor’s permission.

But a year ago, the Republican governor asked the Supreme Court to block the lawsuit, saying Moore overstepped his authority by trying to collect Medicaid funds, a program handled through the governor’s office, without consulting Fordice. Fordice said he would not have agreed to the lawsuit.

In asking the state’s highest court to order Moore to drop the lawsuit, Fordice cited a seldom used law that allows the justices to halt any action by a public official.

Fordice and Moore were re-elected in 1995.

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