JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri moved a step closer to a multi-billion dollar pot of gold that rests on the ashes of cigarettes.
The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District held that additional parties -- including the City of St. Louis and more than 50 hospitals -- can't tap into the settlement between Missouri and tobacco companies.
The city and hospitals, as well as several individuals, had asked the appeals court to make them part of the existing settlement, which is expected to top $6.7 billion over 25 years.
The intervenors can either appeal the decision within 15 days or pursue a separate claim against the tobacco industry.
"This is good news-bad news," said Chuck Miller, a city spokesman. While the City of St. Louis can't join the lawsuit, Miller noted the court found the settlement agreement between the state and tobacco companies leaves open the possibility of a separate action by local government.
"They should not have tried to get inside our pot of money," said Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat who is seeking re-election this year. The other parties should "stop trying to feed off our income stream and stand on their own two feet."
At least one of the litigants took issue with Nixon's rhetoric.
"I think it's rather presumptuous to make that statement," said Larry Coleman, an attorney involved in the suit.
Coleman represents his mother, Margie Coleman. She is seeking damages for the wrongful death of her husband, Elvis, a smoker who died as a result of tobacco-related illness.
"That money belongs to the people of Missouri, not the Attorney General and his cohorts," Coleman said.
He will appeal. Miller said the city has not decided whether to appeal or file a new suit.
In related news, a Senate committee approved a constitutional amendment being pushed by Democrats. It would ask voters to approve a settlement spending plan that earmarks 60 percent for health care, 20 percent for emergency spending, and 20 percent for tobacco education.
Republicans want the voters to have a choice between spending and refunds.
"I've got'em a big pile of money to spend here," said Nixon, who voiced his support for funding at least some smoking cessation programs. "I hope the legislature doesn't pass up this historic opportunity."