OLYMPIA - December 2, 1997 - King County Superior Court Judge George Finkle has ordered that the State Attorney General's Office be given access to key tobacco company documents for use in the state's lawsuit against the industry. The AG's Office contends the documents will support its claim that the tobacco industry misrepresented the health hazards of smoking.
The state had gone to court seeking release of the records because the industry claimed the documents were confidential due to attorney-client privilege. Judge Finkle issued his order after conducting a review of 32 documents from the Council for Tobacco Research.
Judge Finkle specifically found that: "The 32 documents, considered as a whole, provide evidence that supports the state's assertions that defendants used CTR to mislead the public and/or that the R.J. Reynolds Company concealed health risks associated with its products."
The Judge also found that: "The state has made a prima facie showing that RJR was engaged in or was planning a fraud at the time certain that the recorded communications were made."
The Council for Tobacco Research was created to conduct industry supported research on the health effects of tobacco and to develop so-called "safer" tobacco products. State Attorney General Christine Gregoire and other attorneys general believe CTR was a front for the industry to hide behind the truth and dupe the public into believing that scientific research could not prove the dangers of tobacco use.
While tobacco companies had gone to court to block release of the records, Gregoire predicted the state would eventually be granted access under provisions of the law which erase attorney-client privilege if documents indicate that crime or fraud is committed.
"We have believed all along that secret tobacco company documents would reveal fraud and abuse by the industry," Gregoire said.
The industry has 30 days to file an appeal. Judge Finkle's ruling does not clear the documents for release to the public. It does allow the AG's Office to review and use the documents to support its case against the industry. The trial date for the state's tobacco lawsuit is set for September 14, 1998.