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Mississippi Suit Against Tobacco Industry Gets Five-Week Delay

By Myron Levin
Los Angeles Times

The trial of Mississippi's landmark lawsuit against the tobacco industry was moved Thursday from June 2 to July 7, as the judge rejected a tobacco industry request for a delay of at least four months.

Chancery Court Judge William Myers, ruling in Pascagoula, agreed to a five-week delay over objections from Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, who sued the industry to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funds spent to treat indigent patients with smoking-related ailments.

But Moore said he expected some delay following a recent out-of-court settlement with cigarette maker Liggett Group, Inc. - which agreed to provide internal documents and witnesses to attorneys general who have sued the tobacco industry in return for being dismissed from the suits.

With a long delay, Moore would have lost the distinction of being the first attorney general to bring a Medicaid suit to trial. The Florida and Texas Medicaid cases are scheduled for trial in August and September, respectively. Twenty other states have also sued the industry in hopes of recouping health care-expenditures.

"We feel good about it," Moore said, referring to the five-week delay.

"It holds their feet to the fire, and we'll be first up in July," he said.

Myers also ruled that each side will be limited to a maximum of 40 expert witnesses in the trial, which is expected to last about three months.

Industry lawyers had argued that they needed an additional four months to take the depositions of the state's expert witnesses. They also cited the March 20 settlement with Liggett, and the extra time required to review thousands of pages of Liggett documents and to examine Liggett executives and scientists who may testify for the state.

Joseph Colingo, an attorney for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said the state also had dragged its feet in providing medical records of 20 Medicaid patients deemed to represent thousands of smokers whose health-care costs Mississippi is seeking to recoup. A spokesman for Moore denied the state has delayed turning over the information.