U.S. judge sets tobacco lawsuit trial date in 2003
WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Thursday set a tentative trial date of July 15, 2003 for the federal government's racketeering claims against the tobacco industry.
The trial date previously had been set for January 2003.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in September dismissed two counts of the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit that sought to recover billions of dollars spent by the federal government on smoking-related illnesses.
But she ruled the Justice Department could proceed with two counts under the federal racketeering law to seek to force the tobacco firms to give up their ``ill-gotten'' profits obtained through fraud and deceit since the 1950s.
In the first hearing since her ruling, Kessler set out a proposed schedule, which will be made formal in an order in a few days. The government and the tobacco firms then will have a week to respond, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
The defendants are Philip Morris Cos. Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco Co. Inc., Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group Inc., the Council for Tobacco Research U.S.A. Inc. and the Tobacco Institute Inc.
Kessler said gathering of written evidence will start next month and continue until Dec. 1, 2001, and that questioning of witnesses will take place between April 1, 2001 and July 1, 2002.
A list of fact witnesses will be exchanged on July 1, 2001, and expert witnesses on Aug 1, 2001. The list will be made final by Aug. 1, 2002.
Kessler said she expects pre-trial hearings to begin in March 2003, and then continue once a month.