DOJ Official Says Tobacco Case to Continue
A senior official in charge of the Justice Department's civil suit against the tobacco industry said yesterday that "no one in the Bush administration" pressured him to pursue a settlement and that he plans to seeks a funding increase for his litigation team, the New York Times reports. Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Stuart Schiffer said that the June decision to initiate settlement talks with the industry was his alone, adding, "I have never been involved in a large case without exploring whether settlement was at least feasible" (Johnston, New York Times, 9/6). Nevertheless, Schiffer's comments were met with "skeptic[ism]" by committee Democrats who say that the Bush administration is "looking for a way" to drop the multi-billion dollar lawsuit, which was initiated in 1999 by the Clinton administration. "The Department of Justice's management of this case seems unprofessional at best. At worst, they are killing this lawsuit and don't have the political courage to admit it publicly," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who chaired the hearing, said (Lichtblau, Los Angeles Time, 9/6). Schiffer, however, said that Attorney General John Ashcroft "and his staff have made it clear that the case could go forward," adding that despite the settlement talks, he "remains confident that the department has a strong hand to play against the industry" (Koffler, CongressDaily/AM, 9/6).
The department's lawsuit "seeks to recover more than $20 million in federal health care costs ... along with an undetermined amount for what the [government] said were fraudulently obtained profits from the sale of tobacco products" (New York Times, 9/6). This first claim was rejected by a federal judge last year, leaving the government to argue that the industry engaged in racketeering. Schiffer said that department lawyers have held one round of settlement talks with tobacco lawyers, and no further discussions were scheduled, adding that the two sides were "quite far apart" (Los Angeles Times, 9/6). Noting that he hired three new attorneys earlier this year, Schiffer said that he will seek $44 million for the case in fiscal 2002, up from $23.2 million in 2001, although he conceded that the department had not "identified ... specific sources of revenue for congressional appropriators"(CongressDaily/AM, 9/6). Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), noting that a large part of the government's case has already been dismissed, said that $44 million is "a lot of money for a case that has questionable returns" (Mitchell, Media General News Service/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.