Tuesday, June 21, 2005
With the Department of Justice investigating the government's handling of the racketeering case against the tobacco industry, Judge Kessler is now urging settlement. According to the Washington Post,
The judge presiding over the government's troubled racketeering case against the tobacco industry summoned cigarette companies' chief executives, their lawyers and Justice Department attorneys for a closed-door meeting yesterday and urged both sides to settle the case.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler explained in a court order late in the day that she closed the meeting to the public because she considered it "a routine, informal discussion with the parties urging them, once again, to consider the advantages of settling the case rather than the risks of litigating it." . . . .
Kessler's urging that the parties settle comes as the government's civil racketeering suit is in political turmoil and viewed with suspicion by anti-tobacco advocates. The government had claimed that America's six largest tobacco companies engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking from the public -- and should have to pay to help 45 million Americans quit smoking.
But the Justice Department stunned activists during closing arguments June 7 when it announced it would seek $10 billion for smoking-cessation programs instead of the $130 billion that government lawyers previously argued was needed. Since then, news reports have said that senior political appointees at the Justice Department pressured career department lawyers to reduce penalties and soften the testimony of government witnesses. Yesterday's meeting was the first opportunity for Kessler to meet with the parties since the eight-month trial ended June 9 and the allegations of political interference were reported. If the parties do not settle, Kessler will decide whether the industry engaged in a fraudulent conspiracy and what penalties, if any, it should face.