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Reflections: testifying in the Minnesota tobacco lawsuit
  1. Department of Epidemiology
  2. School of Hygiene and Public Health
  3. Johns Hopkins University
  4. 615 North Wolfe Street, Suite 6041
  5. Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA;

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“You may stand down.” I hear these words on Friday, 13 February 1998 in the federal courthouse in Minnesota after two and one-half days on the stand as a witness for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota against the tobacco manufacturers. Three months later, on 8 May 1998, I learn that there has been a massive settlement that brings US$6.5 billion to the plaintiffs and concessions to public health that will long reverberate. With this landmark trial completed, I am writing to describe my experience as an expert, covering my decision to participate, the preparatory work for the trial, and the presentation of testimony in the courtroom.

My decision to participate in the trial was made deliberately and slowly. I was approached in mid-1994 and asked to consider working with the plaintiffs’ counsel, the firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis. Legal actions against the tobacco industry were not front page and daily news at the time and I took some months to puzzle through the basis of the lawsuits, their legitimacy, and the motivations and qualifications of the various players in the Minnesota case. Conversations with knowledgeable friends provided assurance, and further contact with the plaintiffs’ attorneys convinced me that their motivations were sincere and that the public health community had new allies—attorneys—in the struggle against the tobacco industry, I came to view the lawsuits as a public health initiative. Even though I had eschewed the role of expert witness, I knew that I did not want to miss the opportunity to contribute to a potentially historic legal action. Other decisions needed to be faced: should I accept personally the expert fees that would mount over the next few years? How would I add work on …

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