Trials & Litigation

Judge declares mistrial in tobacco case, accuses BigLaw partner of 'egregious' comments

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A Florida judge has declared a mistrial in a tobacco case and ordered a King & Spalding partner to show cause why he shouldn’t have to pay sanctions for the cost of a retrial.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas pointed to a trial comment by lawyer W. Randall Bassett in declaring a mistrial, the Daily Business Review (sub. req.) reports. Bassett represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in a suit seeking to hold the tobacco company liable in the death of smoker Booker Davis.

Thomas alleged that Bassett made an improper comment while questioning an expert witness for the defense, according to the Daily Business Review article. Bassett said a jury in another tobacco case had found how many cigarettes must be smoked each day to suggest a nicotine addiction, the judge said.

Thomas said a lawyer can’t tell jurors about verdicts in similar cases, and in any event, the statement was not true. The other jury hadn’t decided the question of the plaintiff’s addiction, the judge said.

“Knowingly endangering the entire proceeding—in the manner involved in this case—cannot be tolerated under any circumstances and the court is left with no choice but to declare a mistrial,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas alleged that Bassett’s comments during the trial were “premeditated, willful and egregious.”

Bassett and a law firm spokesperson did not immediately respond to ABA Journal emails seeking comment.

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