Tues.: Rupp Testimony Dismays Courtroom

October 28, 2004 8:26 am by Gene Borio

Covington & Burling attorney John Rupp, accused by the DOJ of masterminding a far-flung campaign to round up and deploy scientists who would undercut evidence of the harms of secondhand smoke, testified today. In the witness stand, he looked tall and boyishly handsome, neatly attired with his wire glasses, dark suit, dark olive tie, and earnest demeanor. From a distance, he seemed about 45, without much wear and tear except for the slight bags under his eyes. But the distance was deceiving. Much like his campaign to soften scientific findings, when you got close up, things started to deteriorate: he gains at least 10 years, and considerable wear and tear.

In the stand, his earnestness, under questioning, quickly turns to disingenuousness. The distaste for this witness in the visitors’ gallery seemed palpable.

His testimony even started out weirdly. Though he is a partner in Covington and Burling, which is represented in this suit by Jim Goold, he stated that he had no representation, and would act as his own lawyer.

It was also averred that this managing partner for the London office of Covington & Burling had a non-refundable ticket back to Europe that made it necessary to get his testimony in by a certain time Thursday(!) It’s hard to believe that Rupp has to resort to Priceline-type airfare deals, but there it is.

DOJ lawyer Sharon Eubanks began by asking Judge Kessler to strike much of Rupp’s written direct testimony — or maybe all–as unresponsive, and Judge Kessler seemed to agree. (Paraphrasing) “I’ve read it word for word, and much of those words are nonresponsive. . . He’s a lawyer, he knows the rules and it’s true that patience declines with the evening; mine certainly did,” she said..

As this is a bench trial, ie, information doesn’t have to be filtered for non-courtroom experts on the jury, Judge Kessler said she would put little weight on Rupp’s diversions; she allowed his Direct Testimony to stand.

As a lawyer, you’d think Mr. Rupp had learned the same lessons Drs. Samet, Farone, Brandt and Harris had learned so effectively–speak only out of your own expertise, and after that, SHUT UP!

Rupp didn’t. His comments, taken in context with the events he coordinated, seemed to act like fingernails on the courtroom blackboard.

  • Documents that described his role in various activities were sloughed off as, “I don’t know who wrote those minutes,” or “That was that person’s opinion; they were mistaken.” Some documents bearing his signature were documents “prepared for me, that I signed off on.”
  • He regretted”training” scientists :

    “Training is really the wrong word, although I recognize that I’ve used it myself occasionally in documents I have written relating to ETS consultants.”

  • His direct written testimony reads,

    “Whenever members of IAPAG (The TI’s Indoor Air Pollution Advisory Group) were asked to appear at legislative hearings, the views they expressed were their own. They were never told what to say, by me or anyone else so far as I’m aware. Frankly, I can’t think of a single member of IAPAG who was remotely interested in whether their views were “industry-favorable,” whatever that means.”

    In court, he continued to profess to Eubanks that he had no idea what “industry-favorable” could possibly mean.

  • To save court time with a document he needed to familiarize himself with, Rupp was to go over the document at lunchtime. After lunch, Ms. Eubanks quickly found out he hadn’t.

    Eubanks: So you never looked over this document?

    Rupp: I did look at it, but then I went out and bought a sandwich

  • Particularly rich was the way Rupp danced around the purposes of the invitation-only McGill conference in 1989, its subsequent Monograph, and its minimal acknowledgment that it was primarily a tobacco industry funded and managed event.
  • At one point, when trying to explain that it’s very hard to scientifically prove a negative–ie, that secondhand smoke does _not_ cause disease–he said,

    “You prove secondhand smoke is safe, just as you can’t prove the suit you’re wearing is safe.”

    (Yes, and quite a fetching little number it was, too–maroon, nicely tailored with a short, slightly-flared jacket and a calf-length skirt finished off with a fluted hem. If even Mr. Rupp noticed, Ms. Eubanks may yet win one of this year’s Gavvies for best-dressed lawyer! Let’s start rounding up those “impartial” judges . . . )

  • Finally, even Judge Kessler seemed aghast. (Paraphrasing):

    “You paid people to write letters to the editor of the New York Times??”

    In all, you had the feeling this is one of the lawyers who advised Waxman’s 7 Dwarfs to say, “I believe that nicotine is not addictive” in 1994.

    This testimony was a blow-out for the DOJ. Webb will try to rehabilitate Mr. Rupp today.

    PS: Other new additions to the American Heritage Dictionary from Mr. Rupp’s testimony are:

  • infamous fingerprints
  • buffer entity
  • Horse-Shedded

    We’ll get to those, if I have time…

    PPS: We’re not getting into the scatological term meaning “deep trouble,” ostensibly from a Rupp presentation at the “Down Under Conference,” which Ms. Eubanks forced Mr. Rupp to repeat. Judge Kessler said, “I hope we only have to hear the term once.”

  • One Response to “Tues.: Rupp Testimony Dismays Courtroom”

    1. Anne Landman Says:

      I’m heartened to see that Judge Kessler was aghast at some of Rupp’s (and by default PM’s) activities. As a tobacco document researcher, I’ve read enough of these documents to be pretty jaded, but that does not mean the information is meaningless. It is horrifying to humanity. It’s great to see DOJ putting the documents to work. “Operation DownUnder” is a particularly damning document. It’s good to see Rupp being confronted with it…

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