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Liggett documents may weigh heavily in upcoming tobacco suit

A Jacksonville attorney who won a historic lawsuit last fall for a smoker who developed lung cancer takes on another tobacco company next month _ this time possibly armed with documents from a settlement between Liggett Group and 22 states.

Attorney Norwood "Woody" Wilner represents the family of Jean Connor, of Jacksonville, a longtime smoker who died in 1994 at age 49, in a case against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Trial is scheduled for April 7.

Last week, Liggett settled with 22 states and individual clients. Wilner was the lead counsel for the individual clients.

As part of the settlement, Wilner will receive documents from Liggett, which has admitted that smoking is addictive and causes cancer.

A spokesman for Wilner's office said she did not know if Wilner would receive so-called "smoking gun" documents from Liggett before the trial.

Two of the parties in the settlement tentatively approved Thursday are represented by Wilner's firm, Spohrer, Wilner, Maxwell, Maciejewski & Stanford.

They are Betty Clark of Jacksonville and Kristina Chutz-Reymers of Tampa. Mrs. Clark represents the estate of her husband, James T. Clark, who died of lung cancer earlier this month.

Chutz-Reymers, who also is represented by St. Petersburg attorney Howard M. Acosta, sued on behalf of her mother, Mary Ellen Chutz, who died in 1994 at age 48 from lung cancer.

At a news conference last week, Wilner said Liggett's admissions "will have a tremendous effect on the way people perceive cigarette smoking."

Liggett has agreed to waive any privileges it may have to its internal documents and produce them for use in cases against other cigarette manufacturers.

"Those documents are expected to reveal that the cigarette industry privately acknowledged many years ago that cigarette smoking was addictive, caused lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and numerous other health problems, but decided to conceal the information from the public," said Wilner's partner, Greg Maxwell.

"Perhaps more damning, the documents are expected to prove that the cigarette industry targeted minors and children with various advertising claims," he said.