State high court says Barbour can seek relief in court over tobacco suit

The state Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Haley Barbour deserves his day in court now, not next year, in his attempt to strip the $20 million a year a private anti-smoking group receives from the state’s tobacco settlement.

Barbour, the Division of Medicaid and the Mississippi Health Care Trust Fund, led by state Treasurer Tate Reeves, challenged as unconstitutional the money the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi receives from the state’s tobacco settlement payments.

The private, nonprofit Partnership was founded by former Attorney General Mike Moore after he successfully sued Big Tobacco to recoup the state’s health expenses from smoking. The original settlement with tobacco companies requires cessation and prevention programs. In 2000, a Jackson County court ordered that $20 million a year of the state’s tobacco payments go to the Partnership.

The Partnership and Attorney General Jim Hood are fighting the governor’s lawsuit.

In May, a Jackson County Chancery Court judge ordered the challenge postponed for one year so the Legislature can hold hearings and study the issue. Barbour’s side appealed that delay to the Supreme Court.

The nine-member high court ruled Friday that the judge erred in delaying the matter for a year, with Justice James Graves Jr. dissenting from the majority and Justices George Carlson Jr. and Oliver Diaz Jr. not participating.

Sun Herald
8/8/5