Tobacco money a boon

Deal: Settlement of long struggle over legal fees allows sharper anti-cancer focus.

March 29, 2002

MARYLAND chose Peter G. Angelos six years ago to handle its legal work in the Big Tobacco lawsuit because his firm had unmatched success in similar cases. He was willing to front the money to prepare the case, and he's a passionate advocate.

The cigarette manufacturers had never lost in court then, so the state may have given insufficient thought to the fee it promised. When the settlement for Maryland topped $4 billion, Mr. Angelos was entitled to more than $1 billion: 25 percent, according to his contract.

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. tried to pare down the figure to which they had agreed, Mr. Angelos resisted. A contract, he said, is a contract.

Even those Marylanders who don't like the Angelos style thought he had an argument. At several points, though, he found it convenient to soften his terms, and last week, representatives for Mr. Glendening and those for Mr. Angelos agreed on $150 million to be paid over a five-year span. Both sides, quite legitimately, proceeded to declare victory.

Perhaps now Maryland can savor the value of the settlement to the quality of life, health and future of its citizens. Mr. Glendening has used some of the money to buy tobacco farmers out of their damaging business. Research programs are well underway with new scientists hired to direct them. More efforts will come.

The governor is to be congratulated for insisting on the best possible settlement even as his last budget was being pinched and cut in the Assembly.

Mr. Angelos, for his part, is owed a debt of thanks. He might well have pressed on, contract in hand, to see what the courts would decide. Like the wise negotiator he is, though, he saw an agreement both sides could accept with honor.

Now each man can say he put billions to work for freedom from the painful, deadly toll of tobacco.

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