Thursday, 22 November 2012

Day 87: From Zero to Two Hundred in Sixty Minutes

Today closed out one of the most efficient weeks in the joint Blais-CQTS and Letourneau tobacco class actions. In only half the number of usual sitting hours, the trial seemed to have covered more ground than any other week.

One speed record for the trial was set on Monday, when John Barnett, the president of Philip Morris International's Canadian subsidiary, provided the plaintiffs with key evidence in less than a day. (His unexpected candour resulted in the cancellation of Tuesday's scheduled court day).

A second speed record was set today, when a new method for introducing evidence was piloted. Over 200 exhibits were approved for filing in under an hour. This is a feat that would previously have taken a day or more of court time.

Knocking months off the trial

A speedy method was certainly needed - and soon. The plaintiffs are now at the stage of tidying up the loose ends of putting documents cited by their expert witnesses on the trial record. They are also adding other documents which, presumably, will be relied on in their later arguments. From the comments about the lists of documents that continue to be exchanged with the defendants, it would appear that there are hundreds of plaintiff exhibits yet to be introduced. Yet there are very few available days on the schedule before the plaintiffs are supposed to wind-up the presentation of their case in early March.

Another compelling reason for an efficient method was made clear last week, when Justice Riordan elicited from the tobacco companies that they intend to put some 20,000 documents on the trial record, of which 11,000 were newspaper clippings. At its speediest, the conventional method required about two minutes per document, suggesting more than 9 trial months would be required just to file defense exhibits.

The "Riordan" method

Last week Justice Riordan suggested that proposed exhibits be given pre-assigned exhibit numbers, and that these documents be exchanged to allow the opportunity for objections or concerns to be identified.

Today his suggested method was test-driven. Ms. Gabrielle Gagné presented a CD with a covering list of some 240 documents already reviewed by the companies' lawyers. Justice Riordan listened to and ruled individually on the small number of objections that were over and above the "standing objections" to documents filed under the scope of his May 2nd ruling. No one seemed too upset at the prospect of holes in the sequencing of exhibit numbers that occurs when he agrees with an objection and the document is not allowed into the trial record (as happened a handful of times today).

It took an hour to work out the kinks in this new approach, and another hour to work through all the objections. By lunch-time, the court adjourned for the weekend with over 200 new exhibits ready to be filed.

So close and yet so far

The down-side to this efficiency is that documents are identified tantalizingly on the screens in the courtroom, but not available for some days later.  The marketing-related documents that were reviewed last week and provisionally given exhibit numbers (989.1 to 989.77) were filed in court today. Hopefully these will soon be available on the plaintiffs' database. Those discussed today look similarly delicious...

From Monday through Thursday next week is the first round of the much anticipated testimony of Robert Proctor.