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Court Orders Release of Industry Documents

NATION / WORLD: TOBACCO

March 18, 1998|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Tobacco companies being sued in Minnesota must turn over 39,000 fiercely protected documents for use in the case against them, the state Court of Appeals ruled. The three-judge panel denied the companies' claim of attorney-client privilege for the documents, upholding a March 7 decision by Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth J. Fitzpatrick. The court said the documents must be released by noon Thursday unless the Minnesota Supreme Court grants a stay. Robert Weber, an R.J. Reynolds attorney speaking for the defendants, said the defendants will appeal. The ruling "makes it clear that neither the Court of Appeals nor the trial court nor the special master looked at the documents that we've claimed privilege on," Weber said. In a related development, Fitzpatrick rejected the tobacco companies' request that he step down from hearing the case. They argued he had shown bias against them. State Atty. Gen. Hubert H. Humphrey III welcomed the ruling and predicted the documents will sink any chance of a national settlement that would make the tobacco industry immune from class actions.

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