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In a tense court session Wednesday, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Ramos told lawyers for six law firms that were awarded $625 million for their work in the historic 1998 tobacco settlement in no uncertain terms that he will examine whether the fee award is unethical. The April 2001 decision of the arbitration panel that issued the award set off “a flashing light that got my attention” that the $625 million fee might violate the New York Code of Professional Responsibility’s proscription against illegal or excessive fees, Justice Ramos told the throng of lawyers that filled his courtroom on the second floor at 60 Centre St. Of specific concern, Justice Ramos said, was the panel’s remarks that the large award could be justified by looking to the huge salaries paid to star athletes such as ballplayers Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. But several ethics experts said in interviews Tuesday that it was highly unlikely that any disciplinary body would find the lawyers who worked on the tobacco case for New York State had violated Disciplinary Rule 2-106, which bars the collecting of “an illegal or excessive fee.” Justice Ramos, who took the unusual action of ordering the New York’s tobacco lawyers on his own motion to justify their fee on June 17, also received a skeptical response from the tobacco industry and the State Attorney General’s Office. Three New York firms and three national firms were retained by New York State, under a contingency contract, to handle the state’s suit against the tobacco industry for the cost of treating smoking related illness. The suit settled as a part of a $208 billion nationwide agreement in 1998. New York’s share was $25 billion to be paid over 25 years. As a part of the nationwide settlement, an arbitration panel was established to resolve fees claims between lawyers that the states had retained and the tobacco industry. To date the panel has awarded mo

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