The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on December 3, 1997 · Page 14
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December 3, 1997

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 14

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West Palm Beach, Florida
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Wednesday, December 3, 1997
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Page 14
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14A THE PALM BEACH POST Hearings WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 3, 1997 . ' on tobacco settlement could - begin in January "The can is open, and the worms are beginning to wriggle. ' SEN. JIM HARGRETT D-Tampa An Umphrey employee said no one was available to discuss the allegations. Joe Rice, the South Carolina attorney with the Ness Motley firm who was the state's key negotiator on the Florida settlement, did not deny that a Texas law firm would reap some benefit from his firm's share of the settlement fees. It just isn't wrong, he said. "There's nobody getting any money on any attorneys fee that didn't earn it and work their butts off and contribute to this victory that is being overshadowed by greed on one part and stupidity on the other," he said. He added that the contract the attorneys have allows for firms who have helped finance the case to be reimbursed. As for a conspiracy, Rice denied there was any plot involving his firm and a Mississippi firm to take an unfair share of fees in the Florida settlement. David Fonvielle, the trial team's finance manager, said he was not aware of any cost-sharing arrangement Ness Motley had with a Texas law firm, but believes it would not be unusual for them to have another law firm help them finance the Florida case in return for a piece of the settlement because their resources were stretched over more than 30 states. "There's nothing wrong with it," Fonvielle said. "It's kind of: 'so what.' " Dan Stengle, the governor's deputy chief of staff, confirmed X j I . I m look. "The can is open, and the worms are beginning to wriggle," said Sen. Jim Hargrett, D-Tampa. Howard did not name the Texas law firm, but one candidate is believed to be the Walter Umph-rey firm of Port Arthur. The issue, Howard said, is whether this firm can ethically receive money without showing what it did to earn it. set. 2T-4T. ioir Reebok Applique probe. "Have you raised a complaint with the Florida Bar?" asked Sen. Ron Silver, D-Miami Beach. Howard said that is still an option. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said he thought the fee dispute was a matter for the courts. He said legislators could offer little but sympathy and homilies: "You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas." But Crist said ethics laws could still come into play. For example, a contract can be declared void if it violates Florida ethics law, he said. And more generally, the citizens of Florida ought to know the particulars of contracts signed in their name. Others agreed it was worth a Sale 14.S9 Reg. $20. Brushed fleece jog Sale 4.99 Reg. $7. Cap. JCFtemey C 1997, J.C. Penney Company, Inc. X. ' V'W v. n r;JU 1 that Howard had told him of the allegations that Ness Motley may have a cost-sharing relationship with a Texas firm, but neither he nor the governor was concerned about it. "It didn't send any alarm flashes for me," he said. "The governor was not involved in the details of who would be getting what. He believed that issue would be resolved by arbitration." Stengle also called the hearing "very unusual" and said that Howard's portrayal of events was somewhat misleading. "There's a bigger picture there." Capital Bureau staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Shirish Date contributed to this story. 9 Regular prices reflect offering price which may not have resulted In actual sales. Sal prices on regular-priced merchandise shown In this ad are effective through 12697, except Reebok' apparel shown affective through 121397. "Now" price represent savings off regular prices which may vary by market. Any event designated as a "Sale" always excludes Special Buys, Kerns sold every day In multiples of two or more and Value flight Items which are sold at our best price every day. for mm, mm Sate 21.89 Reg. $29. Legends embroidered fleece top. Polyestercotton. M-XL for boys' sizes 1 0-20. LAWYER From 1A "Senators, I am convinced that the exploration of these and other questions will expose an insidious group who have secretly controlled an unethical, inappropriate and illegal portion of the fees generated in the cases against Big Tobacco," Howard said. In a day teeming with political opportunism, ethics committee Chairman Charlie Crist, R-St. Petersburg, said Howard's allegations are just one more reason he probably will announce formal hearings on the tobacco settlement today. The hearings likely will start in early January. Howard, who appeared with his lawyer, was - not under oath in Tuesday's appearance. Howard, 36, said he wants his reputation back along with $5 million. He believes he is entitled to $21 million in fees, though he will settle for the lower figure. A group of trial-team lawyers say he deserves nothing. Lawyers who want to cut him out say he was an underqualified attorney forced on them by Inspector General Harold Lewis, a top Chiles aide. Lewis resigned last month after it was disclosed he borrowed $24,500 from Howard for, among other things, hotel stays and Sugar Bowl tickets. That loan is itself another likely subject of the hearings Crist is expected to call. Howard took a shot Tuesday at Chiles, saying the governor evidently did not care whether ethical violations were taking place in the ways the lawyer fees were divided. He cited an Oct. 30 letter Chiles wrote to Jacksonville attorney W.C. Gentry, a member of the trial team. "I do not know the distribution of the fees among the trial team and I do not care to know," the letter from Chiles said. The governor added, "I will say categorically that I do not believe you, your firm or any other member of the trial team has committed any ethical violation in failing to advise us in some formal way as to the division of fees among the trial team." Crist, a U.S. Senate candidate who led hearings on dirty-tricks phone calls by the 1994 Chiles campaign, said it all smacks of secret, good-old-boy deals. "If somebody feels they should turn a blind eye to ethics, we've got a huge problem," Crist said. " He said the purpose of hearings would be to determine how it was decided what law firms were included in the "lottery," and who got what share. Chiles said his position has remained consistent: That it is up to the trial team to divide the money for attorneys' fees. That money is supposed to come from tobacco companies above and beyond the amount pledged for health programs and damages. The fee issue is in court. Taxpayers' money is not involved. Chiles said he did not anticipate that he would appear before Crist's committee if hearings were called. "I have no plans to do that," Chiles said. "I am not Tim Howard." Not all members of the committee agreed attorney fees were i an appropriate topic for an ethics Massacre in Indian village leaves 61 dead ' The Associated Press LAKSHMANPUR, India ; Wailing with grief, low-caste Hindu families crowded around mud huts in this poor village Tuesday as police collected the bodies of 61 residents slaughtered in the dead of night. Police blamed the massacre on the Ranbir Sena, an illegal militia of mostly of upper-caste landowners who terrorize villagers who dare question their supremacy. Most residents of Lakshman-pur, a village of low-caste farmers 580 miles southeast of New Delhi, were asleep when at least 300 armed men stormed in late Monday, police chief S.K. Saksena said. Survivors said the deadly raid lasted two hours. The victims, all low-caste Hindus, were methodically shot in their homes, each of them hit by several bullets. Some had their throats slit. The dead included 19 teenagers and four preschool children. Three families were totally wiped out. Twelve people were wounded seriously. "We had no enmity with anyone. Only God knows why such a tragedy befell us," Savitri Devi, who lost several members of her family, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India. Another survivor, Lakshman Ram, fled when the shooting started. He returned several hours . later o find his tffe, mother, sister and daughter slain. .'J M ffllti 14 ' J i I L 36.S9 How 35.S9 sweatshirt of cottonpolyester fleece. logo. Assorted colors. Men's sizes S-XXL Now 19.99. Nylon windpants with embroidered logo. Assorted colors. Men's sizes S-XXL Reebok sweatshirt of cottonpolyester sanded fleece. Embroidered logo. Assorted colors. Sizes S-XL Now 20.99. Crinkled nylon windpants in assorted colors. 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