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    Cigarette Makers Win Key Ruling

    Judge deems tobacco legal fees were excessive, tosses $1.25-billion award.

    NEW YORK -- A New York State judge threw out $1.25 billion in legal fees awarded to lawyers who battled the tobacco industry, ruling that the fees were excessive.

    State Justice Nicholas Figueroa said a consortium of law firms that represented California in the 1998 settlement between 46 states and the tobacco industry was not entitled to the payment that had been granted by an arbitration panel, according to the Associated Press.

    Figueroa, of the trial-level state Supreme Court, said the panel had overstepped its authority in compensating the Castano group, a team of 60 law firms that had handled a California class action called the "Ellis" case.

    "Whatever the merits of the Castano group's laudable efforts during the tobacco wars, the rationale chosen by this panel to reward those efforts exceeded their power under the arbitration clause," Figueroa wrote in his ruling.

    Cigarette makers agreed as part of the $206-billion national tobacco settlement to pay legal fees of private lawyers the states had hired. Any disputes were to be settled through binding arbitration.

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