Judge Rejects Gov't Tobacco Appeal
WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge has once again rejected an effort by the Justice Department to recoup the cost of treating sick smokers as part of its lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
Lawyers for the department went to court last month to ask U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to reconsider a previous decision barring the government from suing the tobacco companies for the cost of treatment.
Justice lawyers sought to recover the $20 billion the government estimates is spent each year treating smoking-related illnesses.
But Kessler ruled Friday that she stands by her original decision.
Kessler is allowing the government to pursue a racketeering case against the industry to recoup billions of dollars in profits allegedly earned through fraud.
But the future of the slimmed-down case still remains uncertain.
Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) has assembled a team of lawyers to work on a possible settlement. Bush administration sources have said they are worried about the strength of the case, saying it's better to try to settle now than risk losing in court later.
Settlement talks last weeks produced no results, and the two sides are far apart, industry lawyers said.
Justice Department spokesman Susan Dryden would not comment Friday on Kessler's latest decision, except to say the agency was reviewing it.
William Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said the ruling was expected.
``It's no surprise that she upheld her own previous ruling,'' he said. ``Today's ruling does not in any way affect the government's ability to pursue its case under the racketeering claims.''
Philip Morris Inc. attorney William S. Ohlemeyer said that like the health claims, the racketeering claims have no legal basis.
He said the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer would ``take further action at the appropriate time to have those claims also rejected.''
The companies being sued are Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., British American Tobacco and The Liggett Group Inc.