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A judge says he’ll rule by Thursday on whether to give Philip Morris a new trial or reduce the $3 billion in punitive damages awarded to a cancer-stricken smoker. On Monday, the tobacco company’s attorneys urged Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles W. McCoy to slash the punitive damage award to Richard Boeken to no more than $25 million and to grant a retrial. McCoy presided over the trial in June in which jurors awarded Boeken $5.5 million in compensatory damages in addition to the $3 billion in punitive damages. The verdict was the largest in an individual lawsuit filed against a tobacco company. Boeken, a smoker for 40 years, has lung cancer. The 56-year-old former oil and securities dealer claimed in his lawsuit against Philip Morris that he was the victim of a tobacco industry campaign that portrayed smoking as “cool” but concealed its dangers. Philip Morris’ attorneys argued that the award was excessive. “The award of $3 billion in an individual case … raises profound issues in our system of justice,” Philip Morris attorney Kenneth Starr told the judge. “No published opinion (in California) sanctions an award of more than $25 million.” Starr, the former independent counsel, also argued that because the tobacco industry expects to face many similar decisions, a smaller award is justified since the company could not afford to pay $3 billion to every plaintiff. Boeken’s attorney, Michael Piuze, argued that the severity of what the tobacco company did justified the high punitive award. “Philip Morris traded health for wealth for 50 years, lied about it and got caught,” he said. “If the punishment should fit the crime, $3 billion is not enough.” In arguing for a new trial, Philip Morris noted McCoy refused to allow the company to present evidence of Boeken’s past criminal convictions, information it said the jury might have used in deciding his credibility. Boeken had two felony convictions during the 1970s — one involving stolen property and one for possession of a small amount of heroin. In 1993, he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of aiding and abetting wire fraud. The case involved a telephone boiler room operation that sold oil and gas properties from 1986 to 1988 in Wyoming. Prosecutors said the business took in about $2.1 million from more than 180 investors. Philip Morris attorney Maurice Leiter argued that there was no evidence of a direct or indirect link between past statements from Philip Morris and Boeken’s belief that smoking was safe. Because of this, Leiter said, jurors had to take Boeken’s word that he got that idea from Philip Morris. “The plaintiff’s credibility was a key part of our defense,” Leiter said. Piuze pointed out that the court ruled three times during the trial that Boeken’s criminal record was irrelevant to the case and could prejudice the jury. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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