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Tobacco Companies Must Wait on Judge's Decision to Dismiss Massive Federal Lawsuit

Aired June 2, 2000 - 2:08 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Cigarette makers are asking a federal judge to throw out a massive lawsuit brought by the federal government.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer was in court for today's hearing.

Charles, what's behind all this?

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's behind all this is the federal government's move last year to seek to recover the amount of money it has paid out through such programs as Medicare, and military health benefits programs, Veterans Administration programs: an estimated $20 billion a year, perhaps stretching back as many as 40 years, and to recover that money from the tobacco manufacturers.

But the tobacco manufacturers, in court today before federal Judge Gladys Kessler, were asking -- they were asking her to dismiss this suit.

The tobacco companies say that there is just no statutory base, no basis in law for the Justice Department to seek this kind of recovery, but the Justice Department contends that the Medical Care Recovery Act, as amended back in 1996, does give them that authority.

So that's the essence of what this hearing was about; it was a motion to dismiss. Judge Kessler said at the end of the hearing, which lasted about three and a half hours, that surely everybody wants an early opinion from her, but she suggested it is going to be a long, hot summer before she makes up her mind what to do on this motion to dismiss. And if she allows it to go forward, we're looking at a trial that may not happen until the year 2003 -- Andria.

HALL: Charles Bierbauer, reporting live. Thank you, Charles.

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