Both sides seek directed verdicts in tobacco trial wrap-up

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Both the state and tobacco companies filed a flurry of motions Tuesday asking the judge to direct verdicts in their favor in Minnesota’s tobacco trial.
Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and seven other tobacco industry defendants asked Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick to order the jury to clear them of all allegations.
One defendant got its wish. Roberta Walburn, an attorney for the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, told the court her side had dropped the case against one defendant — BAT (U.K. & Export) Ltd. — about which the jury heard little in 14 weeks of testimony.
Otherwise, Fitzpatrick took the rest of the motions under advisement after hearing complicated legal arguments from both sides Tuesday. He was expected to rule soon.
Motions for directed verdicts are common before a case goes to the jury. A judge may direct a verdict if he feels evidence is overwhelming for one side or the other. While they’re often rejected, they can preserve a party’s rights during the appeals process.
The state and Blue Cross claim the tobacco industry conspired to hide the dangers of smoking, marketed to children and manipulated nicotine to keep smokers hooked.
The plaintiffs, seeking $1.77 billion they say they’ve spent treating smoking-related illnesses plus punitive damages, have failed to prove their claims, the defendants said.
B.A.T. Industries PLC, the British parent of B&W, BAT (U.K. & Export) and British-American Tobacco Co. Ltd. said the state did not prove it has jurisdiction over it.
Also asking for directed verdicts were The Council for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. Inc., The Tobacco Institute Inc. and Liggett Group Inc., defending itself against Blue Cross only.
Tobacco companies also asked for directed verdicts on some separate counts, including youth marketing.
The state and Blue Cross moved for directed verdicts on several complex legal issues.
Fitzpatrick said he would begin instructing the jury Wednesday afternoon. The defense would make its final arguments Thursday, taking up most of the day, with the plaintiffs giving their closing statement Friday. The case was expected to go to the jury after that.
Outside the courtroom, reports persisted that settlement talks were continuing and the sides were close to agreement. Neither side would confirm the reports and the court and both legal teams were proceeding on the assumption the case would go to the jury.
In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said a settlement in Minnesota would “expedite” national tobacco policy in Congress.
“The more cases come to some resolution, the more likely it is that the federal government, too, must come to some resoultion,” Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters. “My hope is that it will act as yet another catalyst for the Congress and the federal government.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, author of Congress’ leading tobacco bill, said a settlement would suggest tobacco companies are better off cooperating with anti-smoking efforts than fighting them.