Smokers: Punish Tobacco for Delay
MIAMI (AP) -- The tobacco industry is trying to manipulate the court system and should be fined $38 million a day for moving the first smokers' class-action case to federal court, smokers' attorneys said Wednesday.
Allowing the case to stay in federal court after a two-year state trial ``would make a mockery of nearly a decade of litigation,'' attorneys for an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers said in a motion to send the case back.
Mike York, a lawyer for Philip Morris Inc., had no response to the request for sanctions and said the industry would respond to the motion in court.
Tobacco's legal maneuver to change courts after losing a record $145 billion punitive damage verdict ``transcends canons of ethics, good lawyering and basic decency,'' the motion said.
Smokers attorneys proposed punishing the industry by fining the nation's five biggest cigarette makers $38 million a day -- the amount of interest they say is lost each day by delaying the signing of a final judgment.
The industry moved the case to federal court based on a union's motion to intervene in the case minutes before the punitive verdict was read July 14. Fifteen other motions to intervene had been filed and tabled by the trial judge, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Robert Kaye, without any similar move by the industry, the smokers' motion said.
Smokers' attorneys Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt claim there is no precedent for the change in jurisdiction ``under facts that even remotely resemble those in the case.''
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages has set a hearing Nov. 7 on the issue, but smokers asked her Tuesday to consider the issue as soon as possible because of the lost interest and deteriorating health of smokers covered by the lawsuit.
A six-member state jury ruled against the industry, awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three people and set a national record with the punitive award.
The other defendants are R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc. and the industry's defunct Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.