December 17, 2002

Four law firms that had demanded nearly $900 million or 10 percent of an estimated $9.1 billion they had obtained for the State of Illinois stemming from the settlement of a national suit against the tobacco industry will receive only 2 percent or about $188 million, according to a settlement agreement approved on Dec. 17 by Cook County Circuit Judge James F. Henry. The settlement ended often-heated litigation over a 3-year period between the state and its own outside counsel, and it came only after numerous mediation sessions conducted by Donald P. O’Connell, former chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court.

“We think this is a good day for the people, the court system and our justice system,” the State of Illinois’ attorney in the fee dispute, Jerold S. Solovy, told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. According to the Chairman of Jenner & Block, the four outside law firms were duty-bound by the legal profession’s ethics rules to accept significantly lower fees than those called for in their otherwise binding contingency contract. That contract, he noted, was entered into by the Illinois Attorney General’s office several years ago when the financial risks to be undertaken by the outside law firms were assumed to be much larger than they ultimately proved to be.

WLS-TV anchorman Joel Daley called the settlement a “windfall” for the State of Illinois, because it both dramatically slashed the total attorneys fees to be paid by the state by hundreds of millions of dollars and also provided for the near-term release of $90 million in funds that had been held in escrow pending the outcome of a potential trial. Similar sentiments were expressed by news reports appearing in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times as well as in news shows broadcast on WGN-TV and CLTV.