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Assembly votes to cap lawyer contingency fees

The state Assembly voted 60-36 Wednesday in favor of a bill that would cap at $30 million the amount of contingency fees lawyers can collect for doing state work.

The measure also would require that details of those contracts be posted on the Internet.

Proponents of Assembly Bill 27, one of several tort-reform proposals making its way through the state Legislature, said it would bring transparency to contingency-fee contracts between the state and lawyers.

Opponents have questioned the need for the change, however, noting that the state has entered into very few of those sorts of contracts. The most prominent of the recent ones led to the tobacco settlement of the late 1990s, in which law firms received $75 million in contingency fees for winning a $5.9 billion settlement for the state.

Opponents of the bill proposed an amendment that would make its rules apply not just to firms hired under contingency-fee arrangements, but any firm paid more than $25,000 by the state. That proposal was tabled on a 58-38 party-line vote.

The chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, said he is willing to entertain a separate bill that would extend the transparency rules to lawyers hired under arrangements other than on a contingency-fee basis.

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