In Court

Published: Tuesday 30 November 2004

Turn of fate: Oyster fishers of Louisiana, us, received a major setback when the Louisiana Supreme Court rejected their us $1.3 billion claim of loss of livelihood due to a coastal restoration project. A total of 130 oyster fishers had leased water bottoms in Breton Sound. They sued the state on the ground that its 1991 freshwater diversion programme had destroyed their oyster beds by channelling Mississippi River water and sediment into the strait.

Earlier, the Plaquemines Parish jury had ruled in favour of oyster fishers but the court said only 12 of their leases contained clauses that could secure them from such damages; and those who had these leases were too late in filing the suit. But Kenneth Fox, an oyster fisher, said fishers had turned empty water bottoms to profitable holdings under legal contracts with the state. "There was nothing in it to tell us the state was going to destroy our leases."

Tobacco trial: In a telling disclosure in the US government's us $280 billion suit against the cigarette industry, Sorell Schwartz, pharmacology professor at Georgetown University, US, has said that he quit working as an expert witness for a tobacco trade group because it wanted him to be more of an advocate. The case charges cigarette companies with conspiring and lying to the public for over 50 years on the dangers of smoking (see 'For those dead and alive', Down To Earth, October 31, 2004).

Sorell said the Tobacco Institute had hired him and other experts in the 1980s "to have an open discussion of the science" regarding the effects of smoking but it urged them to "take a more advocative position" in addressing concerns about the effects of passive smoking. Sorell stopped testifying on behalf of the institute in 1987. But he continued working as a consultant for other tobacco groups, including training and briefing others "who might be more amenable" to testifying. He was paid for such services by tobacco giant Philip Morris, a subsidiary of Altria Group Inc.

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