Courts: Legal experts say Lewis Kaplan was not required to disclose his background or to disqualify himself in cigarette smuggling suit.

Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan was part of the 2-1 majority that gave the tobacco industry one of its biggest legal victories in recent years–a ruling upholding dismissal of Canada’s cigarette smuggling case against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. The ruling last October by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals not only derailed Canada’s billion-dollar claim but also led to dismissal of similar suits against cigarette makers by the European Union and Colombia.

Internal documents disclosed in tobacco litigation show that Kaplan had represented Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. as a private attorney during the 1970s and ’80s.

The documents show that as part of Kaplan’s work for Brown & Williamson, he participated in meetings of the Committee of Counsel, the inner sanctum of top tobacco lawyers that mapped the companies’ joint legal and political strategies–including how to temper government action on tobacco smuggling.

Kaplan did not disclose his former ties with the industry to lawyers for the government of Canada, though legal experts say he didn’t have to. Nonetheless, tobacco industry foes, who said the ruling was of immeasurable benefit to the entire industry, not just R.J. Reynolds, reacted with surprise and anger.

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