When you first look at the two tables-full of tobacco lawyers, they really don’t look like much. Certainly not like the legal linebackers comprising the “wall of flesh” banks of tobacco lawyers depicted in movies and TV.
Take Lorillard/CTR attorney Michael Minton for example–about 5′9, thin, gray-haired with a receding hairline. With his ashen pallor and slightly slumped back, he might be mistaken for your local dour, not-so-friendly neighborhood mortician.
But in legal action, he becomes a black-eyed warrior, fiercely contained and focused, with his eyebrows angling up at the sides like some Asian god of battle.
Put him up against someone like Dr. Weitzman, a bearded pediatrician with a bohemian/academic mein, who leans on his elbow on one side of the witness stand as he would, perhaps, at the counter of the local bar or coffee house, and it’s like putting a shark in a children’s pool. Weitzman doesn’t stand a chance.
And as Mr. Minton attempts to impeach Dr. Weitzman, the confrontation seems a kind of encapsulation of just how the public health and scientific communities have provided much of the tobacco industry’s defense in this case.
By attempting to be somewhat liberal, slow to judgement, open to outside argument and hesitant to close off debate until all i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in scientific matters, the scientific community has provided masses of defensive weaponry to the tobacco industry.
Take Dr. Weitzman, who had been contracted to review the evidence on prenatal maternal smoking and postnatal secondhand smoke exposure on 3 areas of children’s health:
1. Ear infections (Otitis Media)
2. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
3. Cognitive Development/behavioral problems
For his troubles, Dr. Weitzman spent the morning being picked apart by his own testimony in a 2002 Deposition.
The scene of the 2002 deposition was a room with a large table strewn by now with water bottles, glasses, and a messy effluence of papers. Weitzman was obviously tired, you could see the strain of what must have been going on for hours: his coat was off and his sleeves were rolled up; sometimes he was nodding rapidly; now he was leaning this way, now that on the arms of his chair.
And if today he forgot his exact words from 2 years ago, as he was hammered with Mr. Minton’s precisely-ground questions? Even if he had said previously in the deposition, “You could disagree the earth was round, too,” that didn’t matter. What mattered was the statement drawn out of him at that messy table 2 years ago:
“I think there is good reason to disagree and wish to explore the mechanisms and the specifics. I imagine that there are people of integrity who withhold judgement on this, but the weight of the evidence at this point sure points in the direction that there is a causal relationship for all three of these areas and maternal smoking.”
Out of hours of testimony, what will go up on Mr. Minton’s whiteboard? “People of integrity who withhold judgement.”
Mr. Minton has another 2 hours of questioning for Dr. Weitzman this afternoon.