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A battle over sharing a multimillion-dollar Big Tobacco legal fee among Harvard University’s Alan Dershowitz and Florida’s Robert Montgomery, Sheldon Schlesinger and Robert Kerrigan is getting down and dirty. In addition to fighting each other in separate federal suits filed this summer in Fort Lauderdale and Boston, Dershowitz and Montgomery are competing to see who can describe the other in the most vile of terms. Here’s a sampling, drawn from interviews with the combatants. Dershowitz: “These jerks just decided to show they’re macho to show they were bigger and stronger, but I don’t back down.” Montgomery: “He’s a little jerk who never did anything; he did absolutely zero. It’s the biggest bunch of B.S. I have ever heard. I’m outraged at Dershowitz pulling this extortion game.” The war of words illustrates how such legal titans with matching egos appear willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove a point. The hostilities erupted when Dershowitz demanded a “bonus for success” for his role in persuading the state of Florida to pay the trio $600 million in legal fees in the state’s $13.5 billion settlement in 1997 with the nation’s largest tobacco companies. After a trip to the Florida Supreme Court and arbitration, Florida paid nine law firms a total of $3.4 billion in legal fees, according to Montgomery. He said his firm, Kerrigan’s and Schlesinger’s each was awarded about $200 million last year: $20 million paid up front, plus $10 million annually for at least 20 years. Dershowitz then wrote Montgomery, Schlesinger and Kerrigan, demanding a victory bonus — at least 1 percent of $600 million. The trio balked. Dershowitz became involved after Kerrigan flew to Cambridge, Mass., and asked the law professor to help recover fees from Florida, which had sued Big Tobacco to recoup state funds paid to treat tobacco-related diseases. Dershowitz was retained as a “just-in-case” lawyer for appellate work, Montgomery added. The three lawyers initially paid him $78,500, which they now want returned. Dershowitz submitted an itemized bill, calling for an additional $15,000 in hourly fees, which everyone agreed has not been paid. At the root of the controversy is what kind of deal the trio cut with Dershowitz. Dershowitz said he provided 118 hours of strategically critical advice. “I was induced to forgo a 1 percent cut of the legal fees for a ‘bonus for success,’ which they said would be much better for me.” No one, however, bothered to define “bonus for success.” Said Dershowitz: “My big mistake was trusting them.” Montgomery said Fort Lauderdale constitutional law specialist Bruce Rogow did the appellate work. Dershowitz did nothing, he said. Despite their differences, the three lawyers sought to quietly buy their peace from Dershowitz. They hired Darryl Deaktor of White and Case in Palo Alto, Calif., to negotiate with Dershowitz, who is best known for reversing the fortunes of Claus von Bulow and helping produce an acquittal for O.J. Simpson. The war of words sharply escalated just as the four courtroom heavyweights were close to burying their dispute. Montgomery said he and his colleagues wired Dershowitz $220,000. When Dershowitz demanded a “letter of appreciation,” the trio refused. Although Dershowitz confirmed that he wanted his thank you letter, he flatly denied ever receiving $220,000. While declining to disclose his settlement demand, Dershowitz said it was considerably smaller than 1 percent of $600 million. Montgomery, who said he didn’t want to try his case against Dershowitz in Boston, last month joined Schlesinger and abruptly sued Dershowitz in Palm Beach, Fla., Circuit Court. That caught the Harvard law school professor off balance. “I was the second most surprised person when they did it. The most surprised person was their lawyer,” said Dershowitz. While Deaktor declined to comment, Montgomery said that Deaktor did not authorize the suit against Dershowitz. Dershowitz removed the case this month to U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. Then he sued the three Florida lawyers in Boston federal court, seeking damages for breach of contract. Each side claims the dispute should be decided on their own home turf — an unresolved and thorny issue. The trio of Big Tobacco busters can keep all their fees, said Dershowitz, if they contribute half to anti-cigarette charities. Meanwhile, the war of words continues. Dershowitz: “They’re lying through their teeth; if everybody tells the truth, I will win.” Montgomery: “Dershowitz is an idiot. You better duck, Mr. Dershowitz; you’re riding a horse in the rodeo that’s gonna buck you off. I’ll pursue this until the earth is level.”

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