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Tobacco Companies Try to Dismiss Class Action Judge

Miami, Aug. 3 -- The tobacco industry, battling a Florida class-action lawsuit in which
a jury found it responsible for smokers' deaths and illness, is claiming that the judge in the case is biased, said Martin Broughton, British American Tobacco Plc's chairman.

Judge Robert Kaye is a former smoker who has had heart problems, which could make him eligible to join the class as a plaintiff, Broughton said.

Separately, Kaye ruled that the jury will set a single punitive award for all the class members. Alternatives would have been for the jury to award those damages on a smoker-by-smoker basis, or as a multiplier of compensatory awards in the case.

Kaye's decision could be costly for the industry, said analyst David Adelman
of Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter & Co.

``Kaye's ruling will increase the perceived (financial risk) associated with the . . . case,'' especially given that the same jury that found the industry responsible for harming smokers will decide any punitive award, he said.

The historic class-action's second phase, in which the jury must decide how much to award the named plaintiffs in the class action, is expected to begin on Sept. 7. The panel then will consider compensatory damages for other smokers in the class and deliberate punitive damages.

Motion to Dismiss

John Sorrells, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said the companies filed a motion to recuse Kaye. He would not give any details, citing a court-imposed gag order. Seth Moskowitz, a spokesman for RJ Reynolds, declined comment because of the gag order. Representatives from Brown & Williamson Tobacco, a subsidiary of BAT, couldn't be reached to comment on the motion.

On July 7, the six-member jury, after deliberating for seven days, decided that the cigarette makers must face damages claims by a class of plaintiffs that could include hundreds of thousands of Floridians seeking billions in damages. The suit blames tobacco companies for the deaths or diseases of more than 500,000 Florida smokers.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claimed the companies intentionally hid the health risks of cigarettes to keep people hooked and to increase sales. The industry denied that, as well as an allegation that it encouraged underaged people to smoke.

The companies have argued that people choose to smoke voluntarily and can quit anytime they want. In the damages phase of the case, the defendants will get the chance to make those points with regard to the individual smokers seeking recompense.

Defendants include Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco, Brown & Williamson, Brooke Group Ltd., and two industry trade groups.

Miami-based Brooke is not part of the motion filed to recuse Kaye.

Shares of Philip Morris fell 7/16 to 36 7/8. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Holdings fell 13/16 to 26 9/16; Loews Corp. remained unchanged at 70 15/16; British American Tobacco Plc's American depositary receipts fell 5/16 to 17 3/16; Brooke Group Ltd. fell 7/16 to 18 7/8.


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