Judge Critical of Philip Morris Testimony

A federal judge said Monday the head of Philip Morris USA had submitted "2- to 300 pages of self-serving testimony" describing "oh how wonderful we are" in a civil racketeering case the government filed against major U.S. cigarette makers.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler's (search) comments came after a government lawyer objected to being barred from a line of questions on Michael E. Szymanczyk's (search) claims that the company operates under a set of core values that he helped write.

Szymanczyk, the chairman and chief executive officer of Philip Morris (search), was not in the room when Kessler made her comment about his written testimony, which was filed before his court appearance.

In his written testimony, as in court, Szymanczyk argued the leading cigarette manufacturer has become more socially responsible since he became chief executive in 1997.

"It is no exaggeration to say that the culture of this company has been completely transformed over the past eight years," he said in the written testimony.

In the trial, which began in September, the government has alleged cigarette companies conspired for decades to conceal the health risks of smoking.

On Monday, during Szymanczyk's second day of live testimony, Justice Department attorney Sharon Eubanks tried to show that Philip Morris was slow to respond to concerns about its compliance with the $206 billion settlement that most states reached with large tobacco companies in 1998.

Eubanks cited examples of occasions when state attorneys general contacted Philip Morris about potential breaches of that agreement, which included restrictions on how and where the companies could advertise their products.

But Szymanczyk said there has never been an enforcement proceeding filed against Philip Morris. He said the company is in regular contact with state's attorneys general about a host of issues.

Philip Morris attorney Dan Webb said the company established a track record of compliance with the settlement that should help counter the government's allegation that cigarette makers are likely to engage in fraudulent behavior in the future.

Defendants in the lawsuit are: Philip Morris and its parent, Altria Group Inc. (MO); R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the Tobacco Institute.