Documents indicate tobacco lawyers-researchers consulted

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. considered removing research reports from its files to protect itself from lawsuits, according to a letter introduced Tuesday in Minnesota’s tobacco trial.
“Once it becomes clear that such action is necessary for the successful defense of our present and future suits, we will promptly remove all such reports from our files,” research director Murray Senkus wrote in a 1969 memo to the company’s legal department.
The memo was among 39,000 highly anticipated industry documents that began appearing in court Tuesday. Tobacco companies fought their release all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming attorney-client privilege, before losing last week.
No testimony or document given Tuesday suggested that tobacco companies did remove research reports from files.
According to the Senkus memo, Reynolds invalidated about 15 reports each year for various reasons, including erroneous interpretation of data, purposeless speculation on data and inaccuracies.
“We can cite misinterpretation of data as a reason for invalidation,” Senkus wrote. “As an alternative to invalidation, we can have the authors rewrite those sections which appear objectionable.”
Michael Ciresi, lead attorney for the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, asked witness Scott Appleton during cross-examination whether it was appropriate for attorneys to advise scientists on how to draft research or write reports.
Appleton, a scientist for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. who formerly worked for Reynolds, said he didn’t think it was inappropriate, especially if the attorneys found the reports ambiguous.
Ciresi asked Appleton whether there was a destruction policy in effect at Reynolds when he worked there from 1985 until 1989.
“Not that I was aware of,” Appleton replied.
During a break outside the courtroom, defense attorney David Bernick complained that documents were being taken out of context. There has been no evidence of lawyers cleansing the files of tobacco companies, he said.
“Indeed, what you’re seeing here, is the fact that the documents have been preserved. They’ve been claimed to be privileged, but they’re still here. Now we’re seeing them in court,” he said.
And he said it was not inappropriate for lawyers to be involved in such decisions.
“This is an industry that’s been sued ever since 1954. It’s faced a series of unfolding regulations over the years,” Bernick said. “Any individual in this country can seek out counsel of lawyers, and it is therefore completely unsurprising that lawyers were involved.
“The real question you have to ask is, is there anything in those documents that really would have made a real-world difference to real customers’ smoking cigarettes, and I think the answer will be no.”
On direct examination earlier, Appleton said that smokers have an increased risk of disease but scientists have never been able to isolate what compounds in cigarette smoke may cause disease.