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staff reporter Attorney Michael J. Piuze firm Law Offices of Michael J. Piuze, Los Angeles caseBullock v. Philip Morris Inc., No. BC 249 171 (Los Angeles Co., Calif., Super. Ct.) michael j. piuze makes no bones about it: He’d like to see the tobacco industry wiped out. He’s keeping up his end of the bargain. He’s tried two tobacco cases, and the results topped The National Law Journal’s 100 largest jury verdicts two years running. His third tobacco trial began last month, and he expects it to last into July. But he can’t do it alone, he said. Significant wins in the last 12 to 15 months included suits brought by individual plaintiffs in Oregon, Florida and Kansas, and a $10.1 billion verdict in a Madison County, Ill., class action. Plaintiffs in that case claimed the marketing of “light” cigarettes as a safer alternative constituted consumer fraud. But out in California, Piuze feels a bit lonely. With the exception of one case tried in Sacramento in February, which resulted in a defense win [see story on Page S9], “no one else has stepped up to the plate,” he complained. It isn’t for lack of willing plaintiffs. Since June 2001, when he won a $3 billion verdict in his first case, Boeken v. Philip Morris, Piuze (pronounced pews) has been contacted by hundreds of would-be clients from as far away as Denmark. He estimated that he’s fielded at least 1,000 inquiries from which he’s accepted four cases, including those of Betty Bullock, which resulted in the $28 billion verdict last October, and Fredric Reller, his current case. He’s gone out of his way to coax others to jump in, most notably by giving away the documents, testimony and pleadings from his first case for free. He put them all on a CD-ROM that he called “Trial in a Box,” and gave it to any plaintiffs’ lawyer who asked. The material has since been posted on a Northeastern University Web site ( http://tobacco.neu.edu/box/boekenbox/boekenhome.html). “It’s an invitation. Use it. Go get them,” Piuze urged. It puzzles him that more lawyers haven’t embraced the challenge. “It amazes me,” he said, “that more people aren’t outraged.” In 1968, as a first-year law student at the University of Texas, he told his torts professor that he didn’t understand why no one was suing tobacco companies. He first planned to do so in the late 1980s, but his client died. Then the industry was immunized from litigation for a decade by a state law. It was only repealed by the California Legislature in 1998 to take advantage of the industry’s Master Settlement Agreement with the states. With that barrier removed, suits were filed in Northern California-with notable success. Attorney Madelyn Chaber won a $51 million verdict in 1999 (later reduced to $26.5 million) and a $21.7 million award in 2000. Piuze followed with his big wins. Yet no one in Southern California has joined the fray. It’s not as though he expects many lawyers to approach these cases with the same fervor he does. And he understands better than he did in law school why so many lawyers are reluctant. Lawyers count on cases settling-even when the opponent is as large and formidable as, say, General Motors, a company he has successfully sued many times. One certainty in this litigation is that defendants never settle. That can be intimidating. “Every case will be fought like World War III,” Piuze said. “It will be fought harder than any other case a lawyer has ever done.” It will be time-consuming and costly (his two cases cost him about $500,000 each). Only one individual plaintiff has collected from a tobacco company to date, and judges routinely reduce large verdicts, as did the Boeken and Bullock judges, who slashed those verdicts to $106 million and $28 million, respectively. On top of that, tobacco cases are always appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. That said, Piuze emphasized that they’re also eminently winnable. Philip Morris adopted two very different strategies against him. In the first trial, the company called a variety of witnesses whom Piuze said he turned to his advantage. In Bullock, the cigarette maker called only one. It made no difference, he said. “They didn’t lose these cases because of strategy. They lost them because they deserved to lose them. And that’s the mantra to all the other lawyers that I’d like to see take them on.” As for time and cost, his baseline for a crashworthiness car case is around $300,000, and last month he finally received payment for 14 years’ work on a lawsuit against Ford. Tobacco cases may require more time and money, he acknowledged, but perhaps not as much as lawyers may fear. “A tobacco trial is really a fraud trial,” Piuze said. It also involves negligence and products liability, but the guts of it is fraud. And the best evidence is found in the industry’s internal documents. “The importance of the documents cannot be overstated,” he said. “The documents are the most damning evidence that I’ve ever seen in any type of case that I’ve ever been involved in.” They “nailed” his case in Bullock, he said. For example, a 1969 memo written by a Philip Morris research scientist included this caution: “[D]o we really want to tout cigarette smoke as a drug? It is, of course, but there are dangerous [Food and Drug Administration] implications to having such conceptualization go beyond these walls.” His strategy in using this evidence was simple: “Stand back and don’t get in the way of the documents.” His belief in direct communication with the jury extends to nearly every aspect of his conduct in court. From voir dire on, he tries to eliminate barriers between himself and the jury. During jury selection, he memorizes information about the panel and talks to them each by name, without notes. “It’s always a nice way to get their attention,” he said. He likes to sit on the edge of the counsel table, which brings him closer to the jury and lowers his 6-foot-1-inch frame closer to their level. “It makes it informal and much more conversational,” he explained. He avoids using a podium, unless the judge requires it. These techniques facilitate “having a conversation,” he said. “It takes a lot of the lawyer out of me, which is what I strive to do all the time. And it makes the jurors more comfortable.” He rarely tries cases with a second chair, and he didn’t in his tobacco cases. But he did hire a jury consultant, which he’d only done once in a career that is approaching 150 trials, he said. He hired one because Chaber, the lawyer who won the first two tobacco trials in California, had done so. “Why mess with success?” he reasoned. Though he wasn’t looking for jurors who worked with children, he noted a pattern in the Bullock jury. There was a teacher, a retired teacher, a classroom aide, a psychologist, a police officer who worked with youth groups and a county employee who placed children in foster homes. Including alternates, eight of 15 worked with kids. Other lawyers have noted that jurors are angry at cigarette companies for marketing to children, and this may influence his future selections, he said. He plans one additional change. “I did not push on the compensatories,” he said. “And the reason is that I thought if I asked for too much, that would impair my credibility when I got to the punitives and asked for truly large numbers.” He never suggested a specific sum, and the jury awarded $850,000. He was expecting “at least $1 million.” “I should have suggested a number and told them what I thought they should give.” He was more specific when he asked for punitives, and he didn’t have a problem there. The jury tacked on $28 billion.

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