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Judge Postpones Tobacco Firms' Trial

October 03, 2002|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government's racketeering lawsuit against Philip Morris Cos. and other cigarette makers was postponed Wednesday until September 2004 by a federal judge who said wrangling over pretrial document exchanges will make a 2003 trial date difficult to meet.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said the Justice Department and the cigarette makers differ over whether some government documents should be given to the companies.

Nearly 40 million pages of documents have been exchanged, Kessler said. With dozens of pending motions, many containing complex issues, Kessler said delaying the trial is fair.

"Despite the best efforts" of the court, "it is clear that the existing trial date of July 15, 2003, cannot be met," she said.

The Justice Department sued in 1999, seeking $20 billion in damages. The suit claimed that the companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. and Lorillard Inc., engaged in a 30-year pattern of racketeering to mislead the public and Congress about the risks of smoking.

Last year, the judge threw out U.S. claims to recoup money spent by the government to treat ill smokers through Medicare and other health care programs.

In recent court filings, the U.S. said it is asking that cigarette warning labels cover half of the display surfaces of all packaging and that health information messages from the U.S. surgeon general be inserted or placed on side panels of all tobacco products.

The Justice Department's suit also names Liggett Group Inc. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. Two tobacco industry trade groups, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research, also were sued.

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