November 30, 2005

Architect of tobacco case quits Justice Dept

By Peter Kaplan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The architect of the government's
racketeering case against cigarette makers said on Wednesday
that she had resigned at a time when the Justice Department is
scaling back the legal team devoted to the case.

Justice Department lawyer Sharon Eubanks said she was
voluntarily resigning after 22 years at the department. The
decision comes as the department awaits a ruling in the
landmark case.

"The political appointees to whom I report made that an
easy decision," said Eubanks, adding she was "looking forward
to pursuing other opportunities in the practice of law."

Eubanks said the tobacco litigation team, which at one time
comprised about 35 lawyers at the department, had been reduced
to a "skeleton crew" in recent weeks as many members have been
reassigned to other tasks.

A spokesman for the Justice Department was not immediately
available for comment.

As the nine-month trial drew to a close in June this year,
some members of the trial team expressed frustration after
senior department officials decided to scale back requests for
a 25-year, $130 billion national smoking cessation program to a
$14 billion quit-smoking program.

Anti-smoking activist Matthew Myers expressed concern on
Wednesday about Eubanks' departure and cutbacks in the legal

"We would hope that (Eubanks') departure is not the result
of undue political influence," said Myers, president of the
anti-smoking group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

On October 17 the Supreme Court rejected a Justice
Department appeal aimed at resurrecting the government's
biggest weapon in the case -- a potential $280 billion
disgorgement of past industry profits.

Targeted in the lawsuit are Altria Group Inc. and its
Philip Morris USA unit; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit,
which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group; Vector Group Ltd.'s
Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
unit; and British American Tobacco Plc's unit British American
Tobacco Investments Ltd.

The presiding judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Gladys
Kessler, is expected to rule in coming months.

The tobacco companies denied that they illegally conspired
to promote smoking and said the government has no grounds to
pursue them after they overhauled marketing practices as part
of a 1998 settlement with state attorneys general.

But anti-smoking groups have urged the government to
continue pressing for tough sanctions and not to settle with
the industry on weakened terms. "The trial is over, but this
case is by no means done," Myers said.