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News Briefs I

Tentative Tobacco Agreement Reportedly Reached in Minnesota

The Washington Post

The tobacco industry has tentatively agreed to pay Minnesota $5 billion to settle the state's lawsuit - but the possible settlement remained tenuous, sources said Monday.

Settlement talks between major tobacco companies, the state and its partner in the suits, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, have intensified in the past two weeks as the case has wound down. Barring a settlement, the case could go to the jury as early as Thursday.

While major parts of the settlement remained unresolved, the basic elements include a $5 billion payout to the state over 25 years and about $400 million to be paid to Blue Cross. The companies also would consent to two permanent injunctions, enforceable by the state attorney general, prohibiting tobacco marketing to minors and anti-competitive activity by the industry.

The tentative settlement also calls for the industry to shut down the Council for Tobacco Research, the industry's scientific arm and a focus of the state's contention that the industry fraudulently manipulated science to keep controversies over the link between smoking and disease alive.

A source familiar with the negotiations confirmed the details, though some parts could still shift. The industry previously settled three other state suits - those brought by Mississippi, Florida and Texas - shortly before they went to trial, for about $30 billion.

Investors Pour Money Into Europe

The Washington Post

Investors worldwide ignored the shaky start to Europe's new single currency and poured their money into European markets Monday.

It was a surprising conclusion to a tumultuous weekend meeting in which the leaders of Europe chose 11 countries to participate in the new money, called the euro, but also waffled over selecting the head of the new European Central Bank.

Investor credibility was apparent Monday. The Frankfurt, Germany, stock market DAX index ended the day up more than 4 percent and the Paris CAC index rose 2.4 percent. Major European currencies, including the German mark, weakened, but by an insignificant amount.

Analysts said Wall Street's strong showing Friday influenced traders, but they also said investors had little interest in the EU political gyrations over the central bank head because the economic foundation of the euro is strong.

The euro becomes a financial instrument on Jan. 1. Bank notes and coins will go into circulation in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain at the beginning of 2002. Among the other EU members, Britain, Denmark and Sweden chose not to join the euro and Greece did not qualify.

High Court Rules on Retaliation

The Washington Post

The Supreme Court Monday enhanced the ability of people to sue public officials who retaliate against them for speaking out or otherwise exercising their rights.

By a 54 vote, the justices ruled that lawsuits brought by people who allege retaliation cannot be dismissed before trial simply because they fail to produce "clear and convincing" evidence that they were unfairly targeted.

The case involved a Lorton, Va., prisoner who was transferred out of the area after speaking critically about prison conditions.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that a decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals against the prisoner "undermines the very purpose of" federal civil rights law. Stevens observed that the appeals court was concerned about inmates' frivolous filings but said any move to discourage prisoners who principally want a "holiday in court," rather than a legitimate day in court, should come from the legislative branch, not the judicial branch.

Convicted murderer Leonard Crawford-El was a "litigious and outspoken prisoner," Stevens wrote, noting that interviews he had with The Washington Post led to published stories in the late 1980s about prison crowding. Crawford-El said prison officials, particularly Patricia Britton, vowed to get back at him because of the publicity.