ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When defense attorneys in Minnesota's tobacco trial gather to talk strategy, lawyers for the Liggett Group aren't welcome.
When the tobacco attorneys head for dinner after a grinding day in court, Liggett attorneys aren't tagging along. And when Liggett chief Bennett LeBow came to testify, there were no nods of support from most of the lawyers at the defense tables.
The reason for the cold shoulder? Liggett, the smallest major tobacco company, has acknowledged that cigarettes are addictive and cause disease, and LeBow said so in court. And it even prints the warning "Smoking is addictive" on every pack of its Chesterfield, L&M, Lark and Eve cigarettes. "Defense lawyers treat Liggett lawyers as just more lawyers for the plaintiffs. They are truly that -- in word, deed and function," said Mike York, an attorney for Philip Morris. Thomas McKim, an attorney for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, added: "They're not part of the joint defense. It's certainly an awkward situation." The state of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota are suing the tobacco companies for $1.77 billion spent on smoking- related illnesses, plus punitive damages. Liggett is a defendant only of Blue Cross, having settled its lawsuits with states. Liggett lead attorney James Stricker acknowledged the company is in a sticky situation. "We are the company taking a separate position, which is the true position. Smoking is addictive and it causes these diseases," he said. "Liggett is doing what they believe is the right thing." When LeBow testified for the state last week, he may have further distanced himself -- and his company -- from the tobacco industry. …