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Mariana and Nestor Miranda will have to go back to court if they want to collect the $42.5 million that a Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury awarded them in February.The owners of Miami Cigar Co. got word from Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Fredricka Smith on Friday that she reduced the jury award by some $35 million, down to $7.3 million. In a 10-page order, Smith set aside millions of dollars that jurors awarded on various counts against three subsidiaries of U.S. Tobacco, a publicly traded Greenwich, Conn.-based company (NYSE: UST) that Miami Cigar accused of fraud, theft of trade secrets and breach of contract. John Sopuch III, a partner with Sopuch Nouhan Higgins Arnett & Gaubert in Dallas who represented Miami Cigar, railed against the ruling. “The sad thing about that kind of a decision is that you had a jury in that case, which was a thoughtful jury and which took their job seriously and who paid attention for three weeks. For someone to say. ‘I don’t care what the jury said, I am going to tinker with this thing,’ is wrong,” he said. Lawyers and a spokesman for U.S. Tobacco declined to comment. The jury of four men and two women awarded $8.5 million in punitive damages and $34 million in compensatory damages to Miami Cigar. In a lawsuit filed in 1999, Miami Cigar accused U.S. Tobacco and its subsidiaries of unlawfully terminating an exclusive nationwide contract for Miami Cigar to distribute U.S. Tobacco’s cigars in 49 states. Attorneys for Miami Cigar argued that U.S. Tobacco secretly schemed to take over its new partner’s distribution business after entering into the 1996 agreement. They claimed U.S. Tobacco did this by slowing shipments of cigars to Miami Cigar, while at the same time diverting hundreds of thousands of cigars to a “secret” storage facility in Tampa.Miami Cigar also accused U.S. Tobacco of stealing its customer list so that it could sell to them directly, instead of using Miami Cigar as its distributor. The defense argued there was a shortage of cigars all over the world and that the few cigars available had not been properly aged and needed to be stored. By the time they were aged for sale, the exclusive one-year distribution agreement with Miami Cigar had expired. Smith denied the defendant’s motion to set aside the verdicts on the breach of contract claims and reduced awards on other claims relating to fraud and tortuous interference. She found in some cases that the jury may have failed to follow or understand jury instructions and possibly made mathematical errors when determining damages.But the biggest strike against Miami Cigar came on the fraud charge. Smith found that the jury’s $15.9 million award — representing three years of projected profits from the sale of cigars promised by the defendant — “is too speculative and therefore not the correct measure of damages.” As a result, she set aside the award.In addition to reducing the award, Smith denied Miami Cigar’s motion for attorney fees and denied U.S. Tobacco’s motion for a new trial. The judge acknowledged that plaintiff’s counsel made some improper comments during closing arguments. But she added that the collective importance of the comments is not “so extensive that its influence pervades the trial, gravely impairing a calm and dispassionate consideration of the evidence and the merits by the jury,” which is what would be required to grant a reversal. Sopuch said he plans to appeal. “The great thing about litigation is that this is just a step along the way. There will be another day,” he said. “To not take an appeal would be a disservice to these people.”

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