Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that the Justice Department lowered their request for damages against tobacco companies from $280 billion to $10 billion. Well, now it has changed its tune a bit - at least to the extent that they plan to appeal the ruling that apparently led to the lowering of their damage request.. From today's New York Times,
The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court for the legal authority once again to seek $280 billion in damages from the tobacco industry in a lawsuit that has become a growing political liability for the Bush administration.
Even though the trial judge in the case has not yet issued a final ruling, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene by overturning an appellate ruling in February that limited the damages it could seek.
The department said that the February decision, if allowed to stand, would hurt the government's ability to bring similar racketeering cases against businesses and industries and that it would have "enormous consequences for the American public."
The decision to appeal was another shift for the government in the six-year-old case. At the close of a nine-month trial, Justice Department lawyers stunned a federal courtroom last month by cutting the amount of damages they were seeking to $10 billion from $130 billion.
Senior Justice Department officials said they had little choice but to reduce their demands, in light of the adverse decision in February by the circuit court for the District of Columbia.
But internal Justice Department documents showed that the decision drew fierce objections from the career lawyers on the tobacco team, who said it was legally groundless, would be seen as politically driven and would undermine the department's position in possible settlement discussions with the tobacco industry. Several members of the trial team threatened to quit over the decision, officials said.
Health advocates and Democrats in Congress also objected to the decision to reduce the requested damages, prompting the Justice Department to open an ethics inquiry, still under way, into charges of political interference.
It must be fun to work at the Justice Department right now. [bm]