An anti-smoking doctors' group, Doctors Ought To Care, has joined the debate over fees being sought by the private lawyers in the state's tobacco settlement. According to news reports, the doctors believe the $2.3 billion in fees being sought are "unconscionable". Unquestionably, when an anti-tobacco faction comes out in opposition to the private lawyer fees, the debate has extended beyond partisan bickering. It is anybody's guess how the U.S. Senate's decision to cap attorney fees in the national settlement will effect Texas.
In the future, if the attorney general seeks to hire private counsel, that decision ought to be subject to review by the state legislature. Being that we are dealing with public funds, the public has a right to know that there is open and free competition in hiring such lawyers and that a fair fee is reached. If this procedure were followed in the Texas tobacco case the existing dispute over fees would never have arisen.
Clearly, an agreement would have been reached that factored in legal talent and expertise, as well as how much time, how much work and how much risk was involved.
Peter M. Way, Houston