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Taxpayers Call for Boycott Against Angelos, Orioles

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2001

A new organization of Maryland taxpayers accused lawyer and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos today of charging the state an “outrageous” sum for his work on a lawsuit against the nation’s cigarette makers. The group called on baseball fans to boycott the Orioles until Angelos agrees to accept a lower fee.

Angelos was hired to represent the state in the national lawsuit, which resulted in a massive settlement of which Maryland’s share is expected to total $4.4 billion. Angelos has contended his contract entitles him to 25 percent of the cash, or $1.1 billion.

“We believe Mr. Angelos should be fairly compensated for his effort. However, as a matter of law, the $1.1 billion fee is totally outrageous,” said Jeffrey C. Hooke, a Chevy Chase investment banker and co-founder of the organization called Project $1.1 Billion Recovery.

“This comes from a guy who is already worth hundreds of millions of dollars, who has traded away the Orioles’ top players and who still wants $35 for a ticket to a ballgame,” Hooke said.

Currently, the state of Maryland is waging its own legal campaign against Angelos. Last week, Maryland’s highest court found the lawyer’s argument that he is entitled to the full 25 percent to be “completely without merit.”

The decision did not end the case, which now moves to the state Board of Contract Appeals.

So far, Hooke’s group has raised more than $30,000 and consulted with a Wisconsin attorney who fought successfully to reduce a private attorney’s fees by more than $750 million in the cigarette lawsuit there.

It has also commissioned a poll by Gonzalez/Arscott Research & Communications showing that 52 percent of Maryland residents polled believe Angelos should accept a smaller fee.

The group is considering taking out ads to raise awareness of the issue and perhaps picketing Orioles games, Hooke said. But for now, the group has no plans to mount its own legal challenge to Angelos.

“We prefer that this be settled on a negotiated basis,” Hooke said. Four members of Hooke’s group present at a news conference today -- all registered Republicans from Montgomery County -- said state officials are in a poor position to challenge Angelos, a major donor to the Democratic National Committee and to Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

Kenneth R. Timmerman, president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association and a former GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, said Glendening’s decision to approve the 25-percent contract in the first place amounted to “an obscene payoff to trial lawyers in Maryland.”

Having approved the contract, Glendening is not now “in a position to play hardball” to protect taxpayers’ interests, Hooke said.

The contract to pay Angelos 25 percent was negotiated when Maryland decided to join more than 40 other states in suing tobacco companies to seek reimbursement for Medicaid payments for smoking-related illnesses. The General Assembly later cut Angelos’ fee to 12.5 percent.

The case never went to trial, and Angelos was not directly involved in its settlement. He has said that his firm nonetheless devoted more than 34,000 hours to the case.

Maryland has received about $280 million from the tobacco industry so far. It has placed 25 percent of the money in escrow in case it eventually is required to pay Angelos’ entire fee. Glendening has delayed plans for anti-smoking campaigns and cancer research because of uncertainty over how much of the money will be available.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company