Texans are in no mood to pay the whopping $2.3 billion legal tab in the states tobacco settlement without a full public accounting by the private lawyers who helped win the case. Ninety-four percent of Texans believe the private lawyers should be required to submit an accounting of hours worked and expenses incurred before any legal fees are paid, according to a statewide Mason-Dixon public opinion poll commissioned by Houston Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. Four percent of respondents said an itemization was unnecessary, while two percent were unsure.
There was virtually no variation in responses based on gender, race or geographic region, said Mason-Dixon pollster Del Ali.
Paying lawyers without timesheets and expense reports is a turn-off to taxpayers, said Jon Opelt, director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. It appears these lawyers have hidden from rather than heeded the call for accountablity. The public wants answers not smoke, said Opelt.
The survey was conducted for CALA by Mason-Dixon, a national polling and research firm headquartered in Columbia, Maryland. The 804 registered voters surveyed were interviewed by telephone between February 27 and March 2. Interviews were conducted with a random sample of voters from across the state. The margin of error associated with the results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Opelt said the Houston CALA decided to commission the poll because of conflicting survey results released about the issue.
Asked which of the following veiwpoints comes closest to their point of view, 75 percent of the survey respondents said the five private lawyers dont deserve the $2.3 billion, even if they had a contract with the state. Thirteen percent said the only way for the state to have won its case is for the state to use private lawyers and they now deserve all the money they can get, even if it is $2.3 billion. The remaining 12 percent said they were unsure.
Clearly, the public believes lawyers deserve fair pay not a blank check, said Opelt. Fees are a measurement of hours worked and risk incurred, not a bonus for slaying the dragon.
The poll also showed that:
of those surveyed said they would favor challenging the legal fees if they knew that the case never went to court and that state lawyers, and not the private lawyers who will be paid, conducted some of the work.
said they approved Governor Bushs request that the Texas Supreme Court determine whether the proposed legal fees are fair under state law.
said they favored the Governors request to get court approval to reduce the fees if taxpayers might be liable for all or a portion of the legal fees.
In a related development, the chairman of Metroplex Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (MCALA) has asked the Attorney Generals Office for copies of any billing records or other documents outlining the activities and charges by the lawyers in their service to the state. MCALA Chairman Jim Brickman of Dallas submitted the request under the states open records law.
The state and its taxpayers have a right to a public disclosure of hours worked and expenses incurred in this case, Brickman said. For the state to be handed a bill for $2.3 billion, plus $40 million in out-of-pocket expenses with no details should not be acceptable.