- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) — The state has rejected a request by a taxpayers' group for an independent attorney to fight Peter Angelos' $1.1 billion fee for representing Maryland against the tobacco industry, the group announced yesterday.

The group, Project $1.1 Billion Recovery, had requested Aug. 16 that a special master be named to take on Mr. Angelos. They contended that the attorney general's office had a conflict of interest because it originally contracted with Mr. Angelos to represent the state.

In a letter dated Aug. 21, Randolph B. Rosencrantz, chairman of the Maryland Board of Contract Appeals, said the board did not have the authority to grant the request.

Project members said they are disappointed.

"Without the participation of an independent voice, how are taxpayers supposed to know if this is a fair proceeding or just an elaborate Kabuki dance designed to justify a huge award for Mr. Angelos?" said Jeff Hooke, co-founder of Project $1.1 Billion Recovery.

Last month, a spokesman for state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said the office opposed the request.

According to the original contract, Mr. Angelos was supposed to get 25 percent of the state's portion of the settlement, expected to be about $4.4 billion over 20 years.

When the amount of work on the case turned out to be less than anticipated, state officials asked the firm to go to an arbitration panel set up by the tobacco industry to pay attorneys involved in the case.

Mr. Angelos, who has made millions representing plaintiffs in asbestos cases, refused, citing the original contract.

In 1999, Maryland sued Mr. Angelos after attempts to negotiate a lower fee failed. Lawmakers later voted to cut the fee to 121/2 percent.

Maryland has received about $280 million so far from the tobacco industry and has placed 25 percent of that amount in escrow.

Mr. Hooke said the group now plans a series of advertisements to raise public awareness about ways the state could use the money if less of it went to Mr. Angelos' firm.

The total fee in Mr. Angelos' original contract, $1.1 billion, "could provide 20,000 four-year scholarships for poor kids," Mr. Hooke said.

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