Inevitably, Felix Salmon draws different policy conclusions than would I from the story, but this essay explains at length how state governments’ wish to enjoy the extorted legal proceeds of the tobacco settlement up front, rather than stretched out over time as was the original idea, did not work out quite as planned. [Medium]
“Who Needs Legislation? Dems Want To Extend Tobacco Settlement To E-Cigarettes” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes] “E-cigarettes are bad because they look like cigarettes. E-hookahs are worse because they don’t.” [Jacob Sullum; more from Sullum on the unanimous vote by the Los Angeles city council to ban vaping in public places]
Fifteen years after the $246 billion tobacco settlement, an ingenuous National Public Radio retrospective wonders where all the money went, if not to smoking-reduction programs and Medicaid. Absent from the piece, as indications where some of the money went, are phrases like “lawyers’ pockets” or “political contributions,” or names like “Dickie Scruggs.” Speaking of the latter, the Supreme Court has refused to hear the disbarred Mississippi attorney’s appeal of his corruption conviction. AP, reporting this development, calls Scruggs “the architect of the multibillion dollar tobacco lawsuits of the 1990s.”
Funny thing, though: its state members aren’t exactly financially impartial about the matter. [Daniel Fisher, Forbes]
You know, the money that was said to be so vital to fund “tobacco control” programs. What percentage of the state of Massachusetts’s haul (more than $250 million a year from legal settlement proceeds, aside from outright taxes) do you think actually gets spent on such things? Guess, then click through to my new Cato post.
The New York Times reports on some experienced plaintiffs’ lawyers who are hoping to rip big sums out of food companies alleging mislabeling; one is particularly outraged at a yogurt maker’s use of the “evaporated cane juice” euphemism for sugar. “The lawyers are looking to base damages on products’ sales…. [They] are being selective about where these suits are filed. Most have been filed in California, where consumer protection laws tend to favor plaintiffs.” The Times article, which reads somewhat like a press release for the lawyers involved, flatteringly describes them as “the lawyers who took on Big Tobacco,” though in fact a much larger group of lawyers played prominent roles in the Great Tobacco Robbery of 1998, and no evidence is presented that most of that larger group are taking any interest in the food-labeling campaign. What’s more, the many efforts by the plaintiff’s bar to identify a suitable Next Tobacco in the intervening years have been full of false starts and fizzles, including such mostly-abortive causes as mass litigation over alcohol, slavery reparations, HMOs, and dotcom failures.
The Times does draw the link to Proposition 37, the lawyer-sponsored measure I wrote about last week, which could open up a basis for rich new suits based on failure to correctly affix labeling tracking the sometimes-fine distinctions between genetically modified foodstuffs and all others. The text of Proposition 37 proposes to base minimum damages on the total sales volume of a product sold out of compliance, not on any measure of actual harm to consumers (& Thom Forbes, Marketing Daily; Ted Frank, Point of Law). Earlier on Don Barrett here and on Walter Umphrey and Provost Umphrey here and here.
And Michael Greve is cheering for the wheels to come off [Law and Liberty] I devoted a chapter of The Rule of Lawyers to the states’ Great Tobacco Robbery, which you can also read about here. More: Coyote (“We changed our mind. Please go smoke.”)
A jury rejects a strained health-outlay recoupment claim. [Mass Tort Lit]
The Supreme Court should strike down the multistate compact by which state attorneys general carried out the Great Tobacco Heist of a decade ago, argues Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute [Washington Times and CEI; earlier here, here]. I’ve discussed the MSA at chapter length in my book The Rule of Lawyers as well as in shorter form here and elsewhere.
P.S. AEI’s Michael Greve analyzes the legal background at Balkinization.
Alas, court challenges have generally failed in the past despite the many seeming constitutional and legal infirmities of 1998′s Great Tobacco Robbery — its taxation-escaping-normal-constraints-on-taxation, its bald imposition of retroactive liability, its state-sponsored cartelization of the cigarette trade, its odoriferous self-dealing and counsel-contract coziness, and so forth. Doubly unfortunately, the courts have adopted an exceedingly narrow interpretation of the Compacts Clause, which on its face you might think would bar states from entering deals with each other of this sort without Congressional approval. Christine Hall of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which filed the new certiorari petition, wonders what the Founders would have thought: “It’s hard to believe they would’ve written the Compact Clause for no reason.” [Open Market]
“There has been a growing effort over the past decade from groups such as Smoke Free Movies and SceneSmoking.org, which hosts the annual Hackademy Awards, to pressure Hollywood into cutting back the amount of smoking in films. Now those groups are getting government support for their cause from US Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and from a group of health organizations, including Legacy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization.” [Washington Post] Legacy, incidentally, is a group created as a result of the $246-billion state-Medicaid tobacco settlement whose purposes include pushing for further “tobacco control” — one of many examples in this area in which government-driven funding is employed to further advocacy on one side of controversial issues.
I was a guest this morning on Ray Dunaway’s show on WTIC 1080 (Hartford) to discuss Democrat Richard Blumenthal’s bid to replace Chris Dodd in the U.S. Senate. I’ve been covering the Connecticut attorney general’s legal record for years here at Overlawyered as well as at my other site, Point of Law. For details on his bullying, legally ill-founded ventures into litigation against gun makers and dealers, check here, here, here, here, etc., while for the aromatic tobacco-fee angles, you can start here and here. For the time he sued his own state client, see this 2002 post (& welcome Instapundit, New York Post readers).
That’s what federal prosecutors claim. And he didn’t even do it legally, like a tobacco lawyer. More: NYLJ, Forbes.
Patrick @ Popehat provides a suitable point of comparison: earlier this month the biggest jewel theft in French history, described as a landmark in the history of crime, resulted in a loss of $108 million. “One Lawyer With His Briefcase Can Steal More Than A Hundred Men With Guns”.