Ending one fight over lawyer fees in Maryland's multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a veteran of the cigarette wars who said Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos owed him a cut of the spoils.
In a ruling filed yesterday, U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg said New Jersey attorney Marc Z. Edell had been fairly paid for his work on Maryland's tobacco case and was not entitled to part of the more than $1 billion in attorney fees that Angelos' firm could collect.
Legg's order dismissing Edell's claim ends one piece of the bitter legal fight over how much the lawyers who took on Big Tobacco should get paid.
A lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court between Angelos and Maryland Attorney General Joseph J. Curran Jr. will determine what Angelos' firm recovers for its work on the case.
Edell, who had worked as a consultant on Maryland's case, argued in his lawsuit that he was entitled to share those fees. He had won the first jury verdict against cigarette makers in 1988, and while that verdict was overturned, he argued that his unique background and collection of confidential industry documents were critical to Maryland's litigation.
$798,218 was paid
Attorneys for Angelos argued that Edell had been paid $798,218 for work on the case, when Angelos faced an uncertain return. They said there was never any other agreement.
"I'm not saying he didn't make any contribution to the effort. He did, and he was paid nearly $1 million for his efforts," Angelos said yesterday.
Neither Edell nor the New Jersey attorneys who handled his case returned phone calls seeking comment.
Angelos' firm contracted in 1996 to handle Maryland's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, similar to dozens across the country that sought compensation from cigarette manufacturers for the cost of treating sick smokers.
Angelos' contract said he would receive 25 percent of any jury award or settlement. The state General Assembly later reduced that fee to 12.5 percent, a move Angelos has challenged.
Case settled in 1998
Maryland's tobacco case was settled in November 1998 as part of the landmark, $246 billion agreement between the industry and the states.
Maryland will collect $4.6 billion, adjusted for inflation, over the next 25 years from the deal. Papers filed in federal court put the state's final award at $6.6 billion, with the fees for Angelos' firm reaching as much as $1.6 billion.
In the federal lawsuit, Edell said that Angelos' firm had indicated that any attorney fees would be fairly split.
But in dismissing the claim, Legg ruled that there was no evidence of a fee-sharing agreement.
"Sharing the contingency fees was, at best, always left open to further negotiations," Legg said in his ruling. "Thus, the Angelos firm cannot be bound to share the contingency fee from the Maryland settlement."