Settlement buzz heats up tobacco trial, jury warned to ignore media

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The possibility of a settlement was on the minds of everyone, including the judge, on Monday as the final witness in Minnesota’s tobacco trial completed his testimony.
Both sides rested pending a document day today during which jurors will review new documents not previously admitted during the trial, which is in its 15th week.
Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick released the jury for the day with another reminder to avoid all news reports about the case.
The judge opened the day’s session with a similar comment to jurors, who are expected to get the case late this week if there is no settlement.
As the end approaches, “the noise on the outside increases,” Fitzpatrick told jurors. “Many times what you see and hear doesn’t bear much resemblance to reality.”
The judge’s words were a veiled reference to the morning’s headline in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press proclaiming “Tobacco deal on the table.” Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said the tobacco industry and the Minnesota attorney general’s office had agreed on an outline of a possible $5 billion settlement.
The newspaper said major problems needed to be resolved, and the talks could collapse.
Defense attorneys said they knew nothing of a settlement, but said the tobacco industry has kept its negotiation team separate from its trial team from the beginning. Meyer Koplow, an industry negotiator, didn’t return a call to his New York office seeking comment.
It took the attorney general’s office four hours to issue a two-sentence response that was careful not to deny anything.
“This case has always been about achieving our goals — banning the marketing of tobacco to kids, exposing the full truth to the American people and forcing the tobacco industry to pay fully for the harm it has caused,” said Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III.
“We intend to meet each of these goals and we are preparing to make closing arguments on Wednesday to the jury,” he said.
Andy Czajkowski, chief executive of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, also refused to confirm or deny the report.
“Our lawsuit against the tobacco industry is intended to change the industry. We would not settle for anything less than complete victory,” Czajkowski said. “We are preparing for the trial to move into jury deliberations by the end of this week.”
Michael Ciresi, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, swore no word of a potential settlement came from him.
“I am preparing for closing argument,” he said. “I think I’m in a pretty good position to know, and I’m assuming it’s going to the jury.”
In court Monday, plaintiffs attorney Tom Hamlin questioned the expertise of statistician Brian McCall, the final defense witness.
McCall acknowledged he did not consult with health economists or medical experts in evaluating the way the state and Blue Cross estimated the money they spent treating smoking-related illnesses.