Native Americans seek billions in tobacco money
Lawyers for a group of Native American tribes sought to convince a court Monday to override protests by tobacco companies and allow the tribes to go forward with a lawsuit seeking more than $1 billion in damages for smoking-related deaths and illnesses.
The lawsuit, originally filed in June in U.S. District court in San Francisco, argues that a $206 billion deal between cigarette makers and 46 states ignored the rights and interests of America's first inhabitants.
Both sides appeared in court on Monday to argue a motion to dismiss the case filed by lawyers representing the tobacco companies.
A federal judge is expected to rule shortly on the motion.
``The intention is to make sure that the tribes get a proportionate share of the funds and to redress the sovereignty provision interference that the master settlement agreement has on tribal property,'' said William Audet, a lawyer representing the tribes.
Lawyers for the tobacco companies said they could not comment on the case.
The suit's basic charge is that the tobacco settlement reached last November took into account the cost of smoking on Native Americans, but allotted no compensation to any tribal governments -- violating the due process and civil rights of the tribes in 46 states.
The suit also alleged that the settlement constituted a direct assault on the tribes' right of self-determination and governance.
It added that no money had been paid to Native Americans, although Native American youths, as well as adults and women of reproductive age, had the highest rates of smoking.
``The case is still going forward until the court says otherwise,'' Audet said in a telephone interview.