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Florida Tobacco Trial: Jury Awards Plaintiffs $145 BillionAired July 14, 2000 - 2:59 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And at this time, we welcome our CNN International viewers who have joined us now as we bring you this coverage of what is about to take place in a Miami, Florida courtroom.
A jury that has been meeting for two years on this tobacco case has been discussing in the punitive damages phase of this trial, this, a landmark class-action lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
And CNN's Susan Candiotti has been covering this story.
And, Susan, this a trial that Big Tobacco -- well, let's go ahead and listen to the judge. This is Dade County Circuit Judge Robert P. Kaye presiding.
ROBERT P. KAYE, DADE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE: I have a note from the jury that says we have a verdict. The clerk will record that note. In reference to the case, everybody is here that's supposed to be here?
All right. Now, I will call the jury out and I will then ask them if they have a verdict. And if they do, then I will publish the verdict.
Regardless of what the verdict is, I expect you folks in the audience and folks in this room to maintain the same civil behavior that you have shown throughout the course of this trial. And there's no reason to do otherwise.
After the jury has reached its verdict and it has been published, I will then have a few words and comments to make to the jurors, and then they will go out that door. You folks will remain in this room until they have gone out the door, and then I may have a few other words to say and you will stay here until I release you from this room.
I expect the media also to act in a civilized fashion and not besiege any of the participants in this trial. I know that the media is listening to my voice through the magic of the microphone system and the audio system. It's very disconcerting to the lawyers and certainly to anybody else to be pounced upon by lights and cameras and inquiring media people, so I expect you to be civilized in that regard. And we do have security issues -- measures in effect, and you will have to observe whatever the security people tell you to do.
So with that done...
DAN WEBB, PHILIP MORRIS ATTORNEY: Your honor, one thing briefly: When you address the jury, will you plan on discharging the jury, because we want to make a record on an issue about discharging the jury. And I could do it now if you want, or I could wait to do it as sidebar, whatever Your Honor...
KAYE: I really don't follow. The normal procedure's after the jury has rendered its verdict and it has been accepted by the court, then the jury is discharged.
WEBB: Well, Your Honor, we have made this record in the past that our position is that these six jurors who deliberate phase one and phase 2A, if you're planning on going forward with your trial plan and having phase three with other cases, we have filed a brief on this that under the U.S. Constitution and under the Florida Constitution, under the 7th Amendment, we have the right to have the same jury decide all issues of liability and damages, and that we strenuously object to discharging this jury, because -- while Your Honor's trial plan is still in place.
And if the trial plan is going to go forward with phase three with the trials of other class members, we are entitled to have the same six people deliberate and consider those cases. And so we strenuously object to discharging these six jurors if the court is planning on going forward with what in the past has been part of the trial plan of a phase three liability and compensatory damage determination as to the other relating class members.
And so we do object to the discharge of these six jurors.
KAYE: That's a very novel approach, counsel. OK, let's bring the jurors out.
(OFF-MIKE) what did you do about their notes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I gave it to them.
KAYE: No, but they still have them. I'd like to make sure you (OFF-MIKE)
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: OK, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to...
KAYE: Make sure they don't clean them.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: I told them. I told them.
KAYE: OK, and we'll let you give them out here in the courtroom.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: OK, OK. And then I'll go in there and make sure when they pull their stuff...
KAYE: After they leave, make sure that they don't take anything with them.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: OK.
ALLEN: Again, we're waiting for the jury to enter the courtroom. They have received -- reached a verdict in this damage phase...
UNIDENTIFIED BAILIFF: Bringing in the jurors.
ALLEN: ... of this lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
UNIDENTIFIED BAILIFF: Jurors entering the court.
ALLEN: And here they come.
KAYE: All right, folks, be seated.
All right, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict in this case? Will you hand your verdict to the -- hand it to the clerk.
All right, I will publish this verdict.
All right, publishing the verdict.
Wait a minute. Before we do that, let me think on this for just a second.
No, I'm going to publish the verdict.
All right, in the circuit court of the 11th Judicial Circuit for Dade County, Florida, general jurisdiction division case number 94- 08273 CA-22, Howard A. Engle, M.D., et al plaintiffs versus R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company et al defendants, the verdict form for phase 11 -- 2B, not 11B, 2B. Punitive damages: We, the jury, return the following verdict.
What is the total amount of punitive damages, if any, which you have assessed against the defendants Philip Morris Incorporated? Seventy-three billion, nine hundred sixty million dollars.
R.J.R. Reynolds tobacco company: $36,280,000,000.
Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation individually and as successor by merger to the American Tobacco Company: $17,590,000,000.
Lorillard Tobacco Company/Lorillard Inc.: $16,250,000,000.
Liggett Group Inc./Brooke Group Holding Inc.: $790 million -- a lot of zeroes.
Counsel for Tobacco Research: $1,195,210.
Tobacco Institute $278,339.
So say we all this 14th day of July, the year 2000, signed by the foreperson. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as the clerk calls your name, will you please answer yes, this is my verdict or, no, this is not my verdict.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 6...
KAYE: Or by number, excuse me.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 5...
KAYE: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Hold on, I have to hear it.
Is this your verdict or is it not.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 6.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 5.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 4.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 3.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 2.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes, it is.
UNIDENTIFIED COURT CLERK: Juror no. 1.
UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Yes, it is.
KAYE: All right.
The jury having acceded in the verdict, the verdict will be officially recorded into the record of this case. And at the close of this case and at the conclusion of this matter and having reached a verdict to which you all have acceded, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for service rendered for the past two years. It has been a momentous time and a momentous occasion as far as the history of jurisprudence is concerned.
Because of the length of the trial and the complexity of the trial, it has been a trial that has garnered a great deal of attention not only here but elsewhere, and you are to be commended for the time that you spent, the devotion to your duty and sworn duty as jurors, never complaining, never having gotten sick or ill to the point you couldn't serve -- and I think that in and of itself is a marvelous thing.
But we have asked you, asked of you, a great deal. We asked you to give up your jobs, your lives, your families, your everyday existence for a period of two years, give or take a few weeks in between, and how difficult that has been for you, not only for you but your families, and with all due respect to your employers, whoever they were, who have also sacrificed a great deal just to have you folks here.
Now you sat and listened through phase one and made a determination based on the evidence and the testimony. You sat and listened through phase 2A and rendered a verdict based upon the evidence and the testimony. And you sat through phase 2B and listened and rendered a verdict as to the evidence and the testimony. And you must be commended for your devotion to duty to take the time and the effort to do just that.
Our system of justice is not perfect. It just couldn't possibly be perfect, because nothing in life is 100 percent perfect. But we do the best we can given the system with which we live, and our system is one which involves an independent jury, a group of people who will listen to evidence and testimony, and collectively reach a conclusion which they in their hearts feel is right under the circumstances. That's what our system is all about.
And nobody should be able to question that decision. Nobody should be able to go behind that decision and try to find out what went on behind the closed doors in the secrecy of the jury room, because that's the bulwark of our system. That is the fundamental issue within our system, that once you folks go behind those closed doors and decide a case, that is your province, your decision, your responsibility, and your duty. And nobody should be in the position to question it.
Now I know through the course of these trials that you have been with the same group of people over a period of time, and I know that you've made some very lasting friendships. Relationships have developed between you all, and that's a wonderful thing.
I know that you laughed a lot. I heard you in there sometimes laughing a lot, and sometimes you got very quiet. I'm not talking about the deliberations. I'm talking about during the recesses (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and that's a good thing, too, because it shows that you can get along. It also shows that you have respected the moments when you are thinking about things that you should be thinking about. And that's a good sign.
And I think you've proven to us that you are up to the task of doing a very, very difficult thing. Not too many people can give up two years of their life to a situation like this, and not only once but three times come together to reach a decision which you feel is an appropriate decision to make.
For those of you who will never, ever want to serve on a jury again, you have my sympathy, my feelings of thanks and appreciation and understanding. And nobody will ever be able to criticize you to say, no, I don't want to serve anymore, I've done my bit. You have.
For those of you who do understand the true value of being on a jury and are willing to come back and serve again, because that's what you as a citizen in this country can do to keep our system alive, to keep it functioning, to keep it going and growing in the manner in which it is, remember back to 1215 at Runnemede when King John signed the Magna Carta.
It was the first time in the history of mankind that government, kings and royalty, at that time decided to give to the public, the people a method of redressing their grievances to the king or the government, whoever you want to call it. And from that moment the system of law developed which we call our system: a system of checks and balances, a system of jurisprudence where people can come before court and have their grievances aired, right or wrong, didn't make any difference. But they had the opportunity to bring it forth in public and have some independent body look at it and say, this is what we think. And this is what it's all about. And that's why you as jurors have added to our history. You've added so much to the history of jurisprudence and the history of this country simply by being here for the purposes that you were here and completing the task which you swore you would do.
Nobody can thank you anymore than I can, and I'm sure these folks -- win, lose or draw -- feel the same way I do about the sacrifices that you have undergone for the system. And we thank you for it.
We have certificates of appreciation to give you. Just show them one off the bat. Something that looks like that. Someday you'll hang it on the wall and look at it...
ALLEN: Judge Robert Kaye thanking the jury for their two years of service, a jury which handed down a record-setting verdict in that Dade County courthouse, awarding to the plaintiffs against big tobacco $145 billion. The plaintiffs' attorney, Stanley Rosenblatt, had asked the jurors to return a verdict of between 118 billion and 196 billion, and they delivered.
The jury was widely perceived as pro-plaintiff. It had earlier ruled that cigarettes are a defective product that causes disease and that the industry conspired to hide the health risks from the public.
Let's talk with our legal analyst Roger Cossack.
An amazing outcome, Roger. What in the world does this mean to big tobacco?
ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: well, you know, Natalie, Stanley Rosenblatt, the attorney for the class in this case, went to the jury and his last words, or almost last words, were, he said, send a death penalty verdict back to the -- back against these tobacco companies, and the tobacco companies said this would be the death penalty if they sent back this kind of a verdict, and they did send this kind of verdict: $145 billion. I can't think of anything that ever comes close to that that I'm personally familiar with. On top of the fact, as you know, that tobacco companies signed a $254 billion decree or agreement with the rest of the states -- this is obviously a tremendous, tremendous hit against the tobacco companies. This jury, this jury obviously was convinced that these tobacco companies knew what they were doing and that they had conspired to hide this evidence that this tobacco causes diseases and the tobacco companies knew it. And they really wanted -- they really wanted to punish and they did.
ALLEN: But the judge also had told them in his final instructions to them that their award against a defendant must be such that it could be paid by that defendant without financially destroying or bankrupting that defendant. Explain that.
COSSACK: Well, you know, each side puts on evidence as to what they believe the value of the companies are in this case and what they believe that each company could pay. Obviously, the tobacco companies come in and say, look, we just signed a deal that we owe $254 billion that we have to pay out over the next 25 years. You know, we don't so much money, we can't afford to pay these things. And the other side comes on and puts on evidence of -- by people who have analyzed the tobacco companies' books and says, you know, they can afford to pay it. And I guess the jury just listened to both sides and said, guess what, Mr. Tobacco Companies, you're going to be paying this kind of money.
Now do I think that this verdict is going to hold up on appeal? It's going to be very difficult. I mean, these are astronomical numbers, astronomical numbers. And the question really is for punitive damages whether or not -- and I -- let me just couch this by saying that obviously, if the jury believed that these tobacco companies had done terrible things, that they knowingly put out a product that was defective and caused disease, and that they hid information from people so that people couldn't find this kind of information, obviously, if that's true, that's a terrible thing.
But this kind of money, $145 billion, is really the kind of amount that an appellate jury may take a look at or an appellate court may take a look at and find to be somewhat excessive.
ALLEN: And what does this mean big picture? If tobacco survives this payout, what about other states in this country?
COSSACK: Well, I mean, tobacco -- if this doesn't put the end of the tobacco companies, I'm sure there are going to be a few other states that are going to put the final nail in, if you will. You know, I don't know what company could survive these kinds of hits time after time. I mean, but just what I've told you. They've agreed to pay 254 billion over 25 years, and now this jury comes in and says, we want 145 billion.
So it's going to be hard to see -- you know, we now know that most of the tobacco company, I think, most of their products are going overseas in terms of sales. Whether or not tobacco is going to be a viable product in this country only the time will tell. Notice that no one's ever outlawed it. ALLEN: Right, right. And no regulation.
Roger Cossack, thank you. We're going to go to Andria now for more on this story.
ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: You heard it, a record-setting verdict in this trial that's lasted two year. Let's bring in Susan Candiotti now, who is standing by live in Miami, where the verdict was handed down just a few moments ago -- Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Andria, as you are probably able to see now, that is the attorney representing that class of Florida smokers, an estimated 700,000 of them, Stanley Rosenblatt, the gentleman with the gray hair, hugging a number of the spectators here, including a number of the plaintiffs who had been here day after day for the past two years following every bit of this trial along the way.
So he is receiving congratulatory hugs from them, and we are waiting to see whether he will come to address us. We are set up in an adjacent courtroom. Also we hope to be able to hear -- in fact, they have told us they will speak with us, that is the attorneys from Philip Morris, the attorneys from Philip Morris.
Now we understand that they will be addressing us to tell us what their next step will be. To no one's surprise they will be appealing this verdict. They have said that from the very start.
Now, you can look at all kinds, listen to all kinds of adjectives as you hear the amount of this verdict: blockbuster, huge, gargantuan, whopping. You take your choice of adjectives. When you add it all up, punitive damages totaling nearly $145 billion. That is only nine billion dollars less -- imagine tossing about all these billions of dollars -- only nine billion less than the $154 billion that Mr. Rosenblatt had asked for.
And as these closing arguments began, he told the jurors, "The day of reckoning is here for Big Tobacco." And with this amount of money, clearly that is the case. This jury deliberated for five hours. And that included a lunch break. So, they didn't take very long at all. Among these jurors are four non-smokers, one ex-smoker and one current smoker. Their occupations: a welder -- included a welder -- phone technician, and assistant principal. And so there are a lot of people feeling very good today -- all these plaintiffs in this case -- as you see congratulations all around going on in the courtroom as we speak.
HALL: Susan, as you mentioned, five hours of deliberation. But this trial has gone on for two years; the judge making a point of commending these two women and four men for giving up two years of their life to be so committed to this trial. Two years is a long time.
Let's go to John Zarrella, who has a background piece for us.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During two-plus years of trial, moments of high drama, as the smokers' attorney sparred with executives from Big Tobacco.
ANDREW SCHINDLER, CEO, R.J. REYNOLDS: If you've got a better idea, you should suggest it to me. We will be happy to try it out, Mr. Rosenblatt.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT, ATTORNEY FOR FLORIDA SMOKERS: No you wouldn't.
SCHINDLER: Wouldn't I?
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: You wouldn't.
SCHINDLER: You have an idea on how we reduce the risk of the product?
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: I sure do. I sure do.
SCHINDLER: Get rid of the product. It's a killer. It's an addictive killer that you sell.
SCHINDLER: Yes, but...
ZARRELLA: From the outset, the tobacco companies maintained, the smokers must be held accountable for their actions.
JORDAN SMITH, TOBACCO INDUSTRY ATTORNEY: These cases are about individual medical conditions, individual choices, individual smoking behavior, individual responsibility.
ZARRELLA: The plaintiffs argued they were misled about the health risks and addictive nature of smoking. One of the principal plaintiffs, Frank Amodeo, took his first puff in 1953. Thirty years later he had throat cancer.
FRANK AMODEO, PLAINTIFF: Many of the people in my years, the Dean Martin's, the Nat King Cole's, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin all smoked. My friends smoked, I smoked. My doctor smoked back then.
ZARRELLA: The jurors listened to seemingly endless testimony and read mountains of documents. Because of the magnitude of the case, the trial was divided into three parts: The first phase, the jurors found in favor of the smokers ruling he tobacco industry sold defective products and misled the about health risks.
JUDGE ROBERT KAYE: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, including emphysema: yes.
ZARRELLA: That led to the second phase: The jurors heard the story of three smokers with cancer. Their cases were chosen to represent the class, an estimated half-a-million sick Florida smokers. The testimony of plaintiff Angie Della Vecchia was on tape. She died before getting to court.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had you been diagnosed with any disease that you believed to have been caused from smoking cigarettes?
ANGIE DELLA VECCHIA, DECEASED PLAINTIFF: Yes, February 1997, I was diagnosed with lung cancer.
ZARRELLA: Following the second phase, the jurors again sided with the smokers, finding that cigarettes were responsible for cancer in the three smokers. That led to a stunning mea culpa from one tobacco CEO.
NICHOLAS BROOKES, CEO, BROWN AND WILLIAMSON: I sincerely apologize to you on behalf of myself and on behalf of the 7200 employees of Brown and Williamson.
ZARRELLA: The apology came through during the third and final stage of the trial. Here, the jurors had to decide how much the industry should have to pay as punishment. And, for the first time in two years, all of Big Tobacco CEO's were present, defending their companies; because at stake, the future of the industry itself.
John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.
ALLEN: For now, we got back to CNN's Susan Candiotti -- Susan.
CANDIOTTI: Yes, joining us now is Frank Amodeo. He is one of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
Frank, let me see -- if I could use this microphone just briefly before you address all of the media -- what do you make of the amount of this verdict?
AMODEO: Fair and just. Fair and just.
CANDIOTTI: When they announced the amount, were you surprised by it. This is just slightly less than what Mr. Rosenblatt, your attorney, had asked for.
AMODEO: I think it was a fair and just amount. And I think it sends a message; 40 or 50 years of what they've been doing to me and hundreds of thousands of other people like me. I'm lucky I'm still alive.
CANDIOTTI: What kind of message do you think this sends to Big Tobacco?
AMODEO: The company is selling a product they know is going to harm you, virtually kill you. Let the people know. Don't conceal it. Bring it out in the open. No company will do this again. I don't think if a company has a product they know will harm you, they will conceal it. I think those days are over.
CANDIOTTI: Mr. Amodeo, Big Tobacco has said they can't afford to pay the size of the verdict. Philip Morris, in particular, said six billion and we're wiped out. The total net worth of all the five companies is only $15 billion. Do you expect them to pay this. Or do you think the amount is going to be brought down?
AMODEO: I'm not an economist. I wouldn't know how to answer that question. And so I wouldn't comment on that one.
CANDIOTTI: Is there finally a sense of relief. Is there a sense of anger?
AMODEO: I'm sorry.
CANDIOTTI: Is there a sense of relief at this point. It's been two long years, a lot of people among the plaintiffs' group.
AMODEO: A mountain came off my shoulder.
CANDIOTTI: Thank you very much.
We are about to hear now from the attorneys representing the five big tobacco companies. First of all, here is Mr. Dan Webb, who representing Philip Morris, the America's -- America's tobacco industry leader will speak first -- Natalie.
DAN WEBB, PHILIP MORRIS ATTORNEY: We are disappointed today with the jury's verdict, but it was not unexpected in light of how these proceedings have been structured. The deck was truly stacked against us, and we understood that. However, we are pleased that there's no practical impact of the verdict on Philip Morris, my client. Under the court's procedures, the judgment of the verdict cannot become final for decades, until after the trials of several hundred thousand class members have been completed.
It has been estimated that that could take approximately 75 years if the state of Florida makes the commitment and assigns approximately 100 full-time judges to begin hearing the cases now. Even when the judges -- even when that judgment becomes final decades from now -- Philip Morris is extremely confident that this case will be reversed on appeal.
The errors committed by the court were extraordinary. The fact that the judge allowed a jury to award such an enormous amount of punitive damages to hundreds of thousands of unidentified and unknown smokers, without hearing any evidence whatsoever about the validity of the claims, has never happened before in American history and undoubtedly will never happen again.
The bottom line is very simple. This is a verdict in favor of no one, and fortunately, it will have no practical impact on Philip Morris and its employees. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Can you state your name one more time.
WEBB: My name's Dan Webb, counsel for Philip Morris. Thank you.
QUESTION: Why won't it have any practical impact?
WEBB: Well, there's no practical impact because of the procedures that have been set up are such that no money will be paid -- there will be not even a verdict, a final judgment on the verdict for decades, whether that's 50 years or 75 years, nobody knows. But you've got to try 700,000 cases before the final judgment can be entered in this case. So, an event that is going to take place 75 years from now I don't believe could have any real realistic or practical impact upon Philip Morris' employees.
QUESTION: You were not truthful with the jury when you told them that a massive reward would put your company out of business?
WEBB: No, we told the jury exactly what the judge instructed them on, that they to have judge, they have to judge the ability to pay based on the current financial condition today. And I told the jury that the current financial condition today -- that's the judge -- that's the rule of law they have to apply. And that clearly would put these companies out of business. And by the way, if there ever ever comes a day, if there ever comes a day that this judgment does become final, I can truly predict and tell you that every one of these five companies will be out of business.
There is no industry in America -- there is probably not a country in the world that can withstand a verdict of this size and pay it at one time, which has to occur someday.
We don't believe that day will come for many decades because of the way the trial plan is structured. But it doesn't change the fact that this is an enormous verdict, and that if and when there ever came a day that the verdict had to be paid, there is absolutely no question that it would put every one of these five companies out of business 10 times over, exactly what I told the jury.
QUESTION: Dan, what about a possible settlement or your motive -- incentive for settling now, given this huge number?
WEBB: There is no incentive to settle, and the reason for that is very simple: These companies, in particular my client Philip Morris, believe that this is an unfair procedure, and it has been unheard of in American history to do anything like this, and that the unfairness, the unconstitutionality of it -- my client wants to take this through the court process. We want our final day in court because this should not happen in an American courtroom.
And my client is not settling this case, because to do so means we will not be able to vindicate our due process rights to show this should not happen in an American courtroom -- period.
QUESTION: Will you first ask the judge to reduce this award? Is that your next step?
WEBB: Go ahead, Greg.
LITTLE: Well, first, I want to reaffirm that we do not intend to settle this lawsuit. We believe this is a horribly flawed procedure, and that should not come as a surprise. We've been saying that for four years. The court set up a three-phase process. We have now just finished the second phase. There still has to be a third phase to be completed. Courts all across the country have looked at similar issues and have rejected this procedure.
Over the last five years, there have been 28 courts out of 31 that have rejected this type of procedure, and this lawsuits explains why. We've now tried this suit for two years, and we have not gone any further in terms of resolving these issues. There are still, by the plaintiff's estimate, 700,000 class members that will need to have their others cases tried before phase three is finished.
All along we've said this plan was unworkable. This lawsuit demonstrates why.
QUESTION: Do you think -- what message do you think...
LITTLE: Greg Little.
QUESTION: ... the jury was sending when it certainly seemed angry when they slapped this whopping award on you. So what message do you think they were sending you?
WEBB: You know, I don't know what -- I'd let the jury have to speak to that. I mean, I don't want to invade their province. The jury spoke with a large verdict.
In many ways, I view the jury kind of as the same victims as we are. They were put into a structured situation when awarding a huge amount of money to $700,000 unidentified and unknown smokers. And being placed in that structure, the way this case was structured, they reached a verdict. But in many ways, I view them the same way as I view Philip Morris and the rest of the defendants in this case, is that because of the way this was structured, the results was almost inevitable.
Thank you very much.
ALLEN: The attorneys for Philip Morris sounding angry at this verdict, but saying that they are not surprised. They said that the deck was stacked against us -- and now some plaintiffs are coming to the microphone, so let's go back in and hear from them.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT, PLAINTIFFS' ATTORNEY: I don't have prepared remarks. I don't have a script. Thankfully, I don't need a script.
It was a day of reckoning. Six thoughtful, courageous Americans listened quietly and carefully to testimony for close to two years and, damn it, they did the right thing. They did the right thing. They said to these companies, just like what you heard within the last few minutes, you know, cut it out. Talk straight with us. Tell us the truth for a change.
And this -- anyone who observed this jury, these people were stoic, they were unemotional, they took their jobs seriously in phase one. They deliberated seven days, they examined thousands of documents, they heard from 157 witnesses. And to come after a procedure like this and to hear lawyers from Philip Morris, sour grapes, criticizing the judge, criticizing the plan. They're gotten their way. They've gotten their way, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a scar on the legal and judicial professions of this country that the tobacco industry has gotten their way for the last half century.
Thousands of cases have been filed against them. Only 30 cases in the history of tobacco litigation have ever gone to trial, because individual lawyers would not take these mammoths on with all their resources. And finally they got tagged, finally they got hit, the day of reckoning was delayed in coming, and they should just take it. They should just take it, and you're hearing the same old story, just like on the very few cases they have lost. They appeal, they appeal, they appeal. They never turn around, they never pay, and that's -- We're not worried.
My wife and I -- my wife, Susan, and I, never once came to them and said, please settle with us -- never, never, never. And I'm proud of our class members, I'm proud of our class representatives. They didn't want to settle. This was never about money only. This was never only about money. This was about showing these companies up for what they really are. And at this point, that's the greatest satisfaction that we have.
QUESTION: Stanley, do you ever expect to collect the cost of the judgment?
ROSENBLATT: Of course I do. Of course I do. Geoffrey Bible, I'm available, pal. I'm available, Geoff. Mr. Bible, with all your shareholder meetings and all your stock and your $25 million bonuses, yes, and all your tough talk. Mr. Bible, call me next week. Yes, you want to call me? I'll take a payout Mr. Bible. We can work something out. And if you don't want to call me, fine. Because we have an appellate court in this state that will look at the evidence.
And I don't -- I don't think that two years of hard work, two years of hard work by a dedicated judge and by dedicated jurors is going to go down the drain on some technicality. I don't see that happening. Think about that, Geoff.
QUESTION: Do you think that they have any claim when they say that there can't be a final judgment until all the little mini-trials become (OFF-MIKE)
SUSAN ROSENBLATT, PLAINTIFFS' ATTORNEY: No, they have no claim on that whatsoever. They have taken inconsistent positions throughout these proceedings. They have gone through appellate court explaining that there's going to be a judgment, they can't afford it, and they just absolutely cannot prevail on that issue. And there's no question in our minds but that a judgment will be answered for this. And they're going to have to post a bond, and then we've got to fight the cap on the bonds for the Florida legislature, the $100 million, which is another battle which we feel is unconstitutional. So...
QUESTION: Stanley, here's...
QUESTION: Susan, did you say that (OFF-MIKE) on each of the members of the class before they pay out here?
SUSAN ROSENBLATT: That, Judge Kaye is going to have to determine the procedure for doing that. But in terms of a judgment for what we have recovered, there should be a judgment answered. In terms of the procedure as to whether or not there can be groups of trials based on disease categories together, that, you know, that has to be determined basically one step at a time.
QUESTION: What's next?
SUSAN ROSENBLATT: A hearing Monday at 9:30 for a scheduling.
QUESTION: What do you expect...
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: What's next? Dinner with our kids is what's next.
QUESTION: What do you expect Big Tobacco to do about reducing, possibly reducing, award?
SUSAN ROSENBLATT: They didn't call a witness, they didn't have an economist or a financial expert. We had competent testimony establishing they can afford to pay it. You know, I don't have a crystal ball, but I certainly do not believe under the evidence that the judgment, the verdict, should be reduced at all.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: They always talk nonsense. Thirty cases in the history of tobacco legislation have gone to trial, and they're talking about trying 700,000 cases.
QUESTION: Stanley, you...
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: And that's the kind -- that's the kind of statements which hopefully had an impact on the jury. Because when lawyers -- when the parties are not straight with a jury, that impacts the verdict. And to take that position, that's an absurdity.
QUESTION: Now you had a conversation just now with Geoff Bible, the chairman of Philip Morris.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: You call that a conversation?
QUESTION: One-way conversation, we can call it a conversation...
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: OK.
QUESTION: An invitation.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: Right.
QUESTION: You had a range of punitive damages you wanted the jury to accept. What's the range of a settlement you'd like to talk to Mr. Bible about?
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: You're in fantasy land. You're not getting that from me today.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the size of the verdict?
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: Yes. QUESTION: Was your reaction to it valid? It's not really the biggest ever coming out of a U.S. court.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: I'm -- we're -- you know, when you have the responsibility of representing not one or two or three people but thousands, it's just -- it's mind-boggling. It's incredibly satisfying, and we're very, very happy. We couldn't be happier.
QUESTION: Tobacco loses if and when on appeal -- they reversed three jury decisions -- why is this going to be different?
SUSAN ROSENBLATT: Because we -- let me explain. We've gone through numerous appellate proceedings already. The tobacco companies have probably taken 10 separate appeals, and we have prevailed on those. They have attacked the class-action. We prevailed on that, and it's a statewide class. So it's not as if this is the first time that they would be going into the appellate courts. So there's precedent. There's law of the case.
And it's obviously an uphill battle. There are going to be a lot of hearings, post-trial motions. But we're confident and hopefully justice will prevail.
STANLEY ROSENBLATT: Thank you very.
SUSAN ROSENBLATT: We thank you very much.
ALLEN: Outspoken husband-wife lawyer team, Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, who represented the plaintiffs, and we also heard from the attorneys for Philip Morris.
Now that both sides have said something so different about what happens from here, let's bring in our legal analyst, Roger Cossack.
Roger, did you hear that the Rosenblatts, they're going to continue to fight this and believe some folks will get some money out of it? But big tobacco is saying that there's nothing practical about this, this could be decades before it's resolved? Where do we stand?
COSSACK: Well, I think both of them, Natalie, have certain -- perhaps are a little bit right. It could be decades before some of this money is disbursed. On the other hand, I believe the Rosenblatts have -- have a good strategy in mind.
What the tobacco companies are saying is, look, there are 700,000 people left each to have their case tried. I don't -- I don't remember, but at the beginning of the trial or the beginning of the verdict that we were carrying, just before the jury came in, the tobacco lawyers asked the judge to say, don't dismiss this jury because under -- because under Florida law this jury now has to hear 700,000 more cases, which could take, you know, as they say, another 25 to 30 years. And the judge kind of laughed and said, nice try.
That's going to be part of their strategy. They're going to say, look, this case isn't over until it's over, and there is still another part to go, and you can't give a judgment until all of it is completed. And he -- he -- as you saw that one lawyer from the tobacco company say, this isn't going to be over there for another 35 to 40 years. The Rosenblatts obviously knew this was coming...
ALLEN: Roger, I have to interrupt just a moment, because we want to go back to Dade County. One of the plaintiffs is speaking in this case.
AMODEO: There's no amount of money in this world that is going to change the way that I ever eat or drink. It's not going to happen.
You know, if I had 15 cents, 15 million, it doesn't change the way I eat or drink.
It stops some kids from starting to smoke, some kids who are smoking, make them stop -- not only kids, adults. I know what it's like to crave, I know what it's like to be addictive. And believe me, you cannot compare nicotine with Twinkies or chocolate: not true.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got a challenge for the tobacco company. If they're sincere about the fact that they have -- quote -- changed, OK, stop putting your money into stopping kids from smoking. Go out there and come up with something that will stop people like my twin sister from smoking. Giver here what she needs to quit. Put your money into that.
ALLEN: Some of the key plaintiffs in this class-action lawsuit who are in the courtroom for many, many months, watching this unfold. Let's go back to Roger Cossack.
Roger, what about the 100 million cap by Florida legislators that the Rosenblatts mentioned?
COSSACK: Yes, yes. I -- there is the major problem in this case. The Florida legislature passed just what it said, just what they said, a cap that said no more than $100 million in punitive damages. The Rosenblatts are going to fight that. You've already heard. They said, one, it's unconstitutional, you can't do that. Second of all, I'm sure that they'll have an argument that said, look, this act by the legislature perhaps came even too late to protect the case, to protect this case.
But there is a problem, and I will tell you that there is another problem: $145 billion in punitive damages is an enormous amount of money. Now whether or not you think that the tobacco companies should get hit that badly or not, I can just tell you that in the United States that kind of punitive damages are, you know, very rarely -- and rightfully so -- given. I would think they would have a tough, tough time keeping that high amount on, you know, on appeal.
On the other -- on the other hand, Natalie, you know, there's a lot of ways to go down from 145 billion down to maybe 40 billion, and you still -- that's still plenty of money.
ALLEN: You're right. We're talking a lot of money. Roger Cossack, thanks, Roger.
Now for more, here's Andria.
HALL: Plus, there were many plaintiffs in this class action suit. One of those people is the wife of -- is a gentleman whose wife dies of cancer.
We want to take it now to Susan Candiotti, who's standing by live in Miami with this interview for us -- Susan.
CANDIOTTI: Hello, Andria. Yes, you are referring to (AUDIO GAP)
HALL: We're sorry about that audio. We'll try to get better audio for you later on.
Let's bring in Roger Cossack now, who is still standing by live for us on this case.
Roger, you talked about this cap. What likely is going to be the next legal phase to implement or tear down the $100 million? That's where Natalie left off the interview with you.
COSSACK: Well, what I -- what I think is going to happen is that obviously the tobacco companies are going to say, look, at the very, very most you could have come against us with was $100 million, and you gave us 145 billion. That violates the cap that the Florida legislature passed to, I suppose, protect the tobacco companies from this kind of a verdict.
The Rosenblatts -- that is, the plaintiffs' lawyers -- will say, look, this is just flat unconstitutional, you cannot do that. Why can you pass a law that protects one segment? Isn't that up to the jury to decide?
Well, you know, that may or may not hold. You know, I can't predict what can happen. I can just sort of tell you what the argument is.
The other side is -- the other part of it is they may claim, the Rosenblatts may claim that in fact this law was passed too late, and it really doesn't protect, or it doesn't pertain, to this particular lawsuit.
Look, this case is far from over. There will be appeals, there will be hearings. This is far, far from over. And when the tobacco companies say, look, there's still 700,000 people that have to have their case heard, you know, they're not wrong. Now, whether they'll be heard individually or grouped into classes, which could be, you know -- who knows? -- 10,000, 15,000 people in one class, you know, that's yet to be decided. So there's a lot of things yet to be decided.
I mean, I heard how bravely the lawyers for the plaintiffs spoke, but you know, I don't think they're going to be seeing any of that 145 billion so quickly. I mean, I wouldn't be spending it tonight. HALL: And certainly, no one will be resting too well tonight, because they'll be up to their heads in legal briefs back on Monday morning. But let's take it back to Susan Candiotti now, who is standing by live in Miami -- Susan.
CANDIOTTI: Hello, Andria. Joining us now live is Ralph Della Vecchia. His wife, Angie, died almost a year ago this very month. Her name, Angie. She died of lung and brain cancer.
So the verdict coming on this day in this month must be especially both painful and emotional for you?
RALPH DELLA VECCHIA, WIDOWER OF PLAINTIFF: It was, very emotional. She'll be dead July 25th. It'll be one year. I miss her dearly.
I know that she's -- she's looking over me right now. So I'm just so glad of this verdict. It's not so much of the money, just the idea that cigarettes kill people and trying, you know, trying to stress that point.
CANDIOTTI: Mr. Della Vecchia, I couldn't help but notice that when your attorney, Stanley Rosenblatt, was addressing all of you, you were crying. You were crying.
DELLA VECCHIA: Yes, I cried for my wife. I miss her. I just miss her dearly. And every time they even mentioned her name in court, I cried. I'm just a sensitive person. That's the way, you know, I am.
CANDIOTTI: Do you think that this award, you'll ever see any money?
DELLA VECCHIA: Not the way Dan Webb says it. It seems like they're not going to pay anybody for 75 years.
CANDIOTTI: What do you think of Philip Morris' comments? In fact, he said that Philip Morris is extremely confident this trial will be reversed on appeal, no doubt about it, he says. Wrong from the start, all kinds of trial errors, he says.
DELLA VECCHIA: I don't think so. I think Judge Kaye did a good job. I think all their lawyers had a lot of petty stuff. Stanley Rosenblatt was right on the money all the time.
I just -- just feel that the courts are going to do the right thing, the appellate court.
CANDIOTTI: You know, the tobacco industry has maintained all along that in its opinion it's been punished enough. After all, it's paying a nationwide $254 billion nationwide settlement, almost 13 million in compensatory damages in this particular case. Aren't they being punished enough?
DELLA VECCHIA: No, that's -- that's not punishment. The MSA is not punishment. The FSA is not punishment. That's an agreement they made with all the states and it's supposed to be for Medicaid and all the people so the other states don't have all these class-action suits anymore.
CANDIOTTI: Finally, what's your attitude toward them, the companies?
DELLA VECCHIA: The companies? I dislike them very much. I just...
ALLEN: We apologize for that -- those video problems. We're going to move on with more coverage on this landmark case and a record-setting verdict handed down today.
Florida, the only one of the states that has brought suits against big tobacco. The first person to do this, who received so much attention when he took on big tobacco, was the Mississippi state attorney general, Michael Moore, whom you've probably heard about by now. And we have him with us now from Mississippi.
Mr. Moore, you have been listening to all of this. What is your reaction to what's happened today in Miami?
MICHAEL MOORE, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I have to congratulate Stanley Rosenblatt and his wife. They have hung in there for a very long time with very little resources and they have done a great job. This is just a tremendous verdict. You know people, can quibble the day of the verdict, both sides, whether it will ever be collected or not -- but for me -- I have been in this fight about six years -- this is a big step forward.
I think that it sends a message to the tobacco industry that six jurors are going to get angry enough about all the lies and deceit that they would award such a huge verdict. And I don't think it's as important today to worry about whether it's ever collected. I think the fact that the jury spoke with a $145 billion verdict, I think it will send a loud, loud message to the tobacco industry.
ALLEN: But what will that message translate into as far as the future of tobacco and for smokers?
MOORE: Well, usually what the tobacco industry does after a case like this, they'll delay, delay, delay and never pay. They will appeal this thing forever. And I think that Dan Webb is right. There will be legal processes for the next years. But I think what you'll see happen is, next year, I hope Congress will take another look at giving FDA jurisdiction over nicotine.
Maybe we'll get toward national resolution of these tobacco issues. Our state cases, you know, we are actually collecting $250 billion. I think what will happen in the future is you'll see us, the American public, start thinking differently about the tobacco industry; maybe fewer people will start to smoke. Maybe more people will live longer and we'll save lots of lives. But there is a long way in this story before it's over.
ALLEN: As you said, that you are already collecting $250 billion for another lawsuit that you settled with Big Tobacco on. And of that, the tobacco-makers had said, in this punitive phase, that they had rehabilitated themselves, in part, due to that $250 million -- billion payout over 25 years. What's your response to that?
MOORE: Well, actually, there have been some improvements. We have cut down on some of the marketing and advertising things that they were doing. I think they have done a better job at not targeting our children -- although there are probably still some things they could do. We are starting our own campaigns across America aimed at our kids to try to get them not to smoke, not to use tobacco, enforcing our laws, and those type of things.
So we are starting to see reduction. Just this week in Mississippi, we have seen 10 to 20 percent reduction in the number of young people smoking. So, we are starting to see differences. But, you know, it was appalling to me that Philip Morris, for example, even in this trial, would not admit that cigarette smoking causes cancer. I mean, it's time for them to stop the lying. That is probably what made this jury so angry. And I was sitting back and waiting. I was wondering, if it took the jury a short period of time, it would be a massive number; because I would think that they were incensed by what the industry did.
So, if they would stop the lying -- and they haven't stopped the lying yet -- I think it would do them a lot more good.
ALLEN: Michael Moore from Mississippi, thank you for joining us.
HALL: Mary Aronson is an industry watchdog, and she is an attorney who been following this case, as you can imagine, for the last two years.
She is standing by live now with Susan Candiotti, who is in Florida -- Susan.
CANDIOTTI: Thank you, Andria. Let's get right to some questions to Mary, now that you have already introduced her for me. Thank you.
First of all, a comment from Dan Webb, representing Philip Morris: the company extremely confident this case will be reversed on appeal.
MARY ARONSON, TOBACCO LITIGATION ANALYST: Right.
CANDIOTTI: Should he be so confident?
ARONSON: Well, he's even more confident than that. He doesn't even think that the punitive damage amount will be entered into final judgment in which -- until every class member -- and there are somewhere between 300,000 and 700,000 of them -- has had his or her day in court, which, according to Mr. Webb, will take the next 75 years.
CANDIOTTI: What is your view on that?
ARONSON: I have gotten other opinions from people. I have spoken to various class-action experts who feel that the verdict, the punitive damage amount, is the property of the class, and it needs to be secured. And there can be a final judgment ordered on it.
CANDIOTTI: Well, now, under Florida law, no punitive damage award can put a company out of business.
CANDIOTTI: This amount is clearly way beyond what these five companies said they were worth.
CANDIOTTI: Therefore, is it a given this will be reduced?
ARONSON: Well, certainly during the closing arguments, I think both sides were probably positioning -- apparently Mr. Rosenblatt won out in that positioning -- but I think both sides were, you know, taking extreme positions. Ultimately, I think what the judge decides -- possibly next week sometime -- will be very, very important for the companies, because, ultimately, the judge will make an assessment as to what number would put the company out of business; what company would make it solvent.
And he has the ability to lower the punitive damage award. And I think that's what we have got to look for next.
CANDIOTTI: Do you think -- how likely do you think that is?
ARONSON: I think that it is likely that he will lower it. And, again, if in fact the feeling is that the number is so high that it would cause severe financial jeopardy to the industry, you know, I think we can see a lowering of it. What amount that lowering will be is hard to say. During the closing arguments, during the rebuttal, we saw Mr. Rosenblatt talk about -- other than just cash in their pockets and cigarettes on the shelves -- we saw him talk about things like the value of trademark, the ability to borrow, that sort of thing.
So, I think there are other assets that can be looked at.
CANDIOTTI: Mary Aronson, thank you very much, a lawyer and a litigation specialist. We appreciate your viewpoint on this whopping verdict.
There is a hearing coming up on Monday, again, about all of this. So, we will have to see what happens next at that time as well -- Natalie.
ALLEN: All right, Susan Candiotti, in Miami, we thank you.
And again, a jury awards roughly $145 billion to plaintiffs against Big Tobacco in this landmark case in Florida. And we will continue to discuss it here on CNN. We expect to hear from Philip Morris, one of the companies involved in this case, holding a news conference out of New York City, this afternoon. And "STREET SWEEP," coming up here next on CNN, will continue to discuss this case. That concludes our part of this coverage this afternoon. Thank you for watching.
For Andria Hall, I'm Natalie Allen, good afternoon.
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