Defense Calls First Witness in DOJ Racketeering Case Against Tobacco Companies
Attorneys for cigarette manufacturers on Monday opened their defense in a Department of Justice civil racketeering lawsuit by calling the newly retired head of research and development from R. J. Reynolds as their first witness, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Roxe, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/7). The lawsuit, filed in 1999, alleges that Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Tobacco and the Liggett Group misled consumers about the health risks of smoking and directed multibillion-dollar promotional campaigns at children in violation of the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.
The suit initially sought $280 billion in damages in past profits. However, an appeals court ruled last month that DOJ could not claim profit disgorgements and could only seek penalties that would prevent or restrain future violations. According to a brief then sent to U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who has overseen the lawsuit, DOJ will seek to require the tobacco companies "to fund sustained smoking-cessation programs that have been scientifically proven effective" (California Healthline, 2/7).
The defense's first witness -- David Townsend, a scientist at R.J. Reynolds for 27 years -- said in pre-written testimony that the company had taken measures over the years to reduce tar in cigarettes and identify specific harmful chemicals (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 3/8). Townsend wrote that design issues and consumer preferences complicated efforts to make cigarettes less harmful. DOJ lawyer Joel Schwartz attempted to discredit Townsend's expert status, noting that he might have been given promotions and generous bonuses as a result of his testimony in 22 tobacco lawsuits, the AP/Sun reports. Schwartz provided several letters recommending Townsend for promotion that mentioned his participation in trials. Townsend replied that his trial participation never impacted his promotions or bonuses.
Anthony Sebok, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, said DOJ's strategy likely will continue. Sebok said, "In this case, the theme is: You can't trust these people. So you try to find anything that illuminates that general theme" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/7).