It’s been a great couple of weeks for impunity for the devisers and beneficiaries of the gigantic 1998 tobacco heist. On July 31 a New York appellate panel unanimously slapped down Judge Charles Ramos’s attempt to launch an inquiry under his own authority into the ethical status of the $625 million in fees awarded to lawyers representing the Empire State in the litigation. The panel found that Judge Ramos lacked authority to pursue such review in the absence of controversy between the parties to the litigation and said he had mistaken a variety of points of law along the way. The politically well-connected recipients of that $625 million bonanza had good reason to heave a sigh of relief, since it seems practically no one in the state other than Judge Ramos is curious as to what they did to become entitled to the money (Daniel Wise, “N.Y. Panel Rejects Review Of Tobacco Fee Award”, New York Law Journal, Aug. 1)(see Jul. 30-31, 2002 and links from there). Meanwhile, “[o]nce again, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an antitrust challenge to the $200 billion settlement between the top four tobacco companies and 46 states, finding that while the mega-deal did result in stifled competition, the state officials who agreed to it are immune from suit.” Previously, a suit by cigarette wholesalers had been dismissed on the ground of antitrust law’s Noerr-Pennington doctrine, which immunizes anticompetitive conduct related to lobbying and government action itself; the newly dismissed suit was filed on behalf of consumers (Shannon P. Duffy, “Smokers’ Antitrust Challenge Rejected”, The Legal Intelligencer, Jul. 31).