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Lawyer Sues Two Tobacco Companies

November 19, 1997

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A lawyer sued his co-counsel and two tobacco companies Tuesday, accusing them of trying to prevent him from getting his share of the $11 billion settlement between Florida and the industry.

Bob Montgomery, one of the 12 private attorneys hired by Florida to handle its lawsuit against the tobacco industry, claims his colleague _ Mike Maher _ held secret meetings with representatives of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris Inc.

Montgomery says the companies wanted Maher to induce the state not to honor its contract with attorneys, which called for them to receive 25 percent of the state’s settlement.

That would be about $2.8 billion _ $233 million for each of the attorneys.

Maher was ``motivated ... by promises made by the tobacco industry″ of even bigger gains if he participated in a national settlement, the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court alleged.

Approval of the national deal could be jeopardized if Congress sees huge attorneys fees being paid in state lawsuits, Montgomery has said.

Maher said Tuesday he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Steve Krigbaum, who represents Philip Morris, said Montgomery’s lawsuit was ``desperate″ and called claims of interference ``hogwash and bizarre.″

Maher was the lead negotiator for the state, while Montgomery concentrated on trial preparations. In August, the state announced the settlement, calling for ``reasonable″ fees for the attorneys to be determined by arbitration and paid by the tobacco industry.

Montgomery and four other attorneys, however, have been fighting to be paid under their original contract.

Last week, Judge Harold Cohen ruled the 25 percent contract was invalid because the fees would be ``patently ridiculous″ and excessive.

The attorneys have requested a stay of that order while they appeal.

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