By Elizabeth Stawicki
May 7, 1999
When the tobacco trial ended last year, then-Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey
proclaimed the tobacco industry had surrendered on the state's terms. Those
terms included $6.1 billion, the end of cigarette billboard
advertising in the state, and the industry agreed to stop making comments about
the health effects of smoking.
The money has started to come in but little has been spent. State lawmakers have
different ideas how to spend it and the board charged with spending about
$200 million on anti-smoking efforts is still getting itself organized.
SKIP HUMPHREY STILL BELIEVES
Minnesota achieved the seemingly insurmountable:
bringing the nearly omnipotent tobacco industry to its knees. But a year later
Humphrey has mixed feelings about the settlement's aftermath.
See the collection of storiesfrom Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of the tobacco trial.
On the one hand, I'm very pleased that we moved ahead on some things
but frustrated by the failure of how the dollars are to be used.
Humphrey, who lost a bid for governor, is now a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government. Just how to divvy up the tobacco booty has dominated much
of the legislative session and the issue is still unresolved.
In an effort to sway legislators, anti-smoking advocates marked the trial's
one-year anniversary at the State Capitol rotunda.
One photograph displayed pictured former Minnesota Twins ballplayer Bill Tuttle. Tuttle
died last July of oral cancer from chewing tobacco. His wife Gloria.
I literally jumped up and down when we won that settlement a year
ago. But it's been a very hollow victory, because nothing has been done. And we
need to set aside at least 11 percent of that money for tobacco prevention.
Governor Ventura and Senate DFLers want to set aside more than $1 billion
to set up endowments for public health and family support. House
Republicans want to include the one-time money in a tax cut, something Humphrey
The best possible public health initiative would be to establish an
endowment; putting the money away not spending it, put it away so it makes
substantial earnings to be able to fund on an on-going basis the smoking
cessation and prevention programs.
The state's partner in the case, Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota got about
$470 million from the tobacco settlement. Blue Cross didn't escape debate
over how it should spend its money. Some policyholders sued for that money
saying they ultimately bore the cost of smoking related illnesses through higher
premiums. The suit was dismissed.
The health insurer's president and CEO Andy Czajkowski says Minnesota and Blue
Cross were fortunate to reach a settlement at all, particularly when many
subsequent cases against the tobacco industry failed.
As I look back at it now, I think our victory is looking more
significant (than) even at this time a year ago mainly because I see other litigation
going forward. It appears that our success may turn out to be distinctive in view
of other court decisions have been. So, looking back, I think we really
accomplished a great deal.
The State's lead attorney in the case, Mike Ciresi, takes pride that attorneys
engaged in other tobacco lawsuits are using the once-private - and some say
damning - tobacco files which Ciresi's team of lawyers uncovered. At the time of the
settlement, Ciresi said he wouldn't take such a case again. He's since changed
This case was the result of a lot of really good people who put
themselves at risk. These people gave up their lives for four years and some of
them it affected physically. I could see it, and it was very difficult for them.
Would I ask them again? Knowing the individuals, probably because they would do
it and the result was well worth the effort.
Minneapolis attorney Peter Sipkins, who assisted counsel for the tobacco
companies, agrees the trial was one of the most intense he's experienced.
It was a 24-hours-a-day commitment by the defendant companies, by their
attorneys and plaintiff's lawyers. While the energy keeps people going, when the
trial is over, that energy dissipates and then you're left with sort of a
feeling that "what am i going to do to fill my life?"
When Sipkins looks back on the trial and settlement, he wishes he and the other
local attorneys for the tobacco companies would've played a larger role in the
case. Because the trial had implications nationally, the tobacco companies gave
the lead roles to their own attorneys. Sipkins doesn't claim local attorneys
could've won the case, only that they might've had a smoother time with the
The local counsel had a better relationship with Judge Fitzpatrick in
particular than the national counsel, and when the national counsel began to
play a more major role in the case, Judge Fitzpatrick turned against the
defendants. Had the local counsel stayed in there, I think we would've had a
MPR was unable to reach any of the jurors who served on the case. Several of
them flirted with financial ruin because of the time they were away from their
jobs. Judge Lawrence Cohen says, looking back, he wishes Fitzpatrick would've
used better judgment and dismissed some of the jurors for hardship.
The sacrifice they made was above and beyond what anybody should have to
make on jury duty and points out higher amounts, and the judges owe a duty to be
responsible in knowing when to cut somebody from a jury. I guess professionally,
I'd have to say that I don't know many judges that would've kept these jurors in
this panel; none that I'm aware of.
Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick retired shortly after the trial citing health reasons.
He moved, and even former boss, Chief Judge Lawrence Cohen, doesn't know where
to find him.
Cohen lobbied the Legislature to pay three of the jurors lump sums for their
hardship in serving on the tobacco trial. Those payments range from $4,500
to $17,000. That bill is awaiting Governor Ventura's signature.