FROM CIGARETTE PROFITS TO LAW SCHOOLS: A final payout in lawsuit for damages to smokers draws a question.

Circuit Judge Tim Fox last week ordered that $2.2 million remaining in the $45 million settlement fund from a lawsuit by Marlboro Light smokers should be split between the state’s two law schools to finance scholarships for students interested in public interest law.

The judge had indicated at the outset these were appropriate indirect beneficiaries
of money paid by a tobacco company in damages for misleading smokers about the harmful effects of their product.

But the judge solicited suggestions on other uses of the money, as a reader observed in a note sent to me. The note contends the ideas submitted were, in several cases, directly related to the ills of smoking. If the judge wasn’t going to consider them, the note read, why ask?

 There WERE many suggestions from others.

You can read them all here.  They are wide-ranging — from cancer research to veterans relief to homeless shelters. At the top of the list were these, with numbers representing the number of times mentioned by members of the class:

In its initial request for fees, the Thrash Law Firm, attorneys for the 20,000 class action plaintiffs, had argued for an award for charitable interests from the fund. It specifically suggested the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, UAMS, the Lung Association and the Cancer Society Action Network. The filing said: “These organizations have voiced public support for this matter and/or have joined in amicus briefs before this court and the Arkansas Supreme Court. Now that the case has produced a substantial fund for the benefit of the class, it would be only fair should those entities — which as part of their focus smoking cessation, prevention and/or treatment — share in the payments made by Phillip Morris.”

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The judge ruled last week that he was sticking with an award to the law schools. He said the organizations suggested were worthy, but he wrote that the system of law had been critical in winning the case and the award should be consistent with “the nature of the underlying action.” He said scholarship funds at both the Fayetteville and Little Rock law schools supported people who might practice law in the public interest.

His complete reasoning, including tributes to lawyers for whom the scholarship funds were established (the late Dean Richard Atkinson in Fayetteville and the Morley family in Little Rock), can be read here.

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On the same day last week, the judge authorized a final $1.5 million payment to the Thrash Law Firm. The firm had been awarded $11.3 million in earlier orders for fees and costs.