[JURIST] A North Carolina judge ruled Wednesday that $318 million in funds from a 1998 tobacco settlement should be released to tobacco farmers as litigation continues over other remaining payments. Tobacco companies had sought a refund of the money after the federal government approved a $10 billion buyout of tobacco quotas last year. However, North Carolina Business Court [official website] Judge Ben Tennille ruled that payments made by tobacco firms during the first three quarters of 2004 should be released, despite litigation over a final $106 million payment due from the fourth quarter of the year. The payments to farmers [payment summary], part of a massive $206 billion settlement [settlement summary] of lawsuits filed by 46 states against tobacco companies, called for $5.1 billion in payments over 12 years to farmers to compensate them for reduced demand for tobacco. The settlement called for a halt to payments, though, if the farmers were compensated from another source. AP has more.