The Counsellor's Corner
Did I miss something? I thought that tobacco settlement money was to be used to deal with issues regarding tobacco. Not according to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan who recently proposed using up to $300 million in tobacco settlement money to pay the millions of dollars in liability damages expected as a result of the Rampart Scandal. Mayor Riordan says that this will help the City pay for the scandal and cause no significant impact on City services. Wonderful! Very prudent! The problem is that the money was and is to serve a different purpose.
It appears that the City Attorney’s office is estimating the Rampart liability will total somewhere around $100 million. On the other hand, plaintiffs’ attorneys believe the final sum will be closer to $200 to $250 million. Obviously no one knows right now, as people are being released from prison almost daily, and new examples of police corruption are coming to the fore at a similar rate. This estimate may approximate things as they are right now, however the more police crime that is exposed, the more potential plaintiffs there will be and the more money that will be owed. In other words, no one has any idea how much this is going to cost.
How do City Council members feel about this? Jackie Goldberg takes what I view as the appropriate position by deeming this proposal a catastrophe. “To put it into Rampart is a tremendous loss... I think it should be spent on healthcare initiatives to help young children and their families... “ What a novel concept, using settlement money for the purpose for which it was intended.
On the other hand, City Council member Michael Feuer says he thinks that this approach has significant promise. Council member Laura Chick also believes this proposal has potential as she would like the money that will be owed as a result of Rampart to not affect City services to the public. This may be a noble sentiment, but it is not where the money should go.
Please remember that the purpose of the nationwide tobacco settlement is to attempt to repay states, cities and counties for smoking-related health care costs. Well then, they should get the money. Now Mayor Riordan warns that if the City Council does not approve his plan, the City will have to “tighten its belts.”
Well, let the belt tightening begin. There is absolutely no morality in the Mayor’s suggestion.
Contrast this to the budget surplus being dealt with in Washington D.C. right now. The Republicans want to use the money for a tax break, the Democrats want to use it to advance social programs. This is general money that has found its way into our treasury which can lead to a spirited and healthy debate as to what to do with the funds. These are general funds, they were not earmarked for anything in particular, as they are a result of an economic surplus.
This is much different from what is known as tobacco money as it is part of the tobacco settlement. It seems to me as if that money has a proper destination and I hope the City Council directs the money to the appropriate health care entities that certainly need it.
Dr. Charles J. Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger, and a therapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Growth. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues.