Friday, 23 May 2014

Day 233: Closing in on the end ... and testimony that can't be shared

As it turned out, there was only one session of the  Montreal tobacco trials held this week.

Wednesday's session, which had been imposed by Justice Riordan as part of his fish-or-cut-bait deadline to Imperial Tobacco was mysteriously cancelled late Tuesday night, the day that company's lawyers had been told to inform the judge of their decision whether or not to call class members.

(For months, planning has been held hostage to this company's threat of a prolonged parade of a sampling of 60 smokers among of the million or so Quebecers who would be members of one of the two class actions)

I only learned when I entered the courtroom on Friday, the next scheduled day of hearings, that Justice Riordan had granted the company a three day extension to make up their minds.

I am glad for the delay, as it meant I was able to observe the reaction when Suzanne Côté rose to announce that Imperial Tobacco's decision in the end was to NOT ask for any witnesses to testify -- not even those two representative witnesses (Mme. Cécilia Létourneau and the family of Jean-Yves Blais) whose medical records could be made available for this purpose.

Those who held to the prevailing theory that this was a time-consuming bluff seemed to have had their view vindicated. The plaintiffs shook their heads, laughed and exchanged knowing looks. (There was even an obvious exchange of money, as unlikely as it seems that anyone bet the company would actually allow people suffering from emphyzema or lung cancer to appear before this compassionate judge.)

Justice Riordan braced his chin on his hands and stared steadily at Suzanne Côté. I would not have wanted to be on the other side of that look, but she seemed unfazed.

It did not even deter her from making requests for further time extensions when the discussion segued into the schedule for the final stages of the trial: the written and oral arguments.

She said the companies needed at least 4 weeks more to prepare their written "notes and authorities" than the plaintiffs were taking. She offered only two reasons for the extra time - the judges' desire for hyperlinks to relevant exhibits (no one else laughed!), and the lawyers' desire to have holidays in July.

Guy Pratte was lined up to give reasons for a further few weeks' delay. He wanted the trial to not sit during the weeks when he was in Europe and later preparing for Supreme Court hearings.

Justice Riordan did not look very sympathetic to any of this, but at the end of the day offered a calendar which responded to their demands. Even then, there was a reluctance to commit!  (The schedule, when final, will be posted in a later blog).

More secrets!

More on the day, I cannot tell you. Not without breaching a court order, that is.

The president of JTI-Macdonald, Michel Poirier, testified as scheduled. The session was not held in camera, but a publication ban was put on the proceedings, and on any evidence that was presented.

This seemed odd, give that much of what was discussed has been covered by previous court rulings and that many of the documents covered by the ban were made public during the companies' bankruptcy protection proceedings.

As a result, only the lawyers in the room, together with Mr. Poirier's small entourage of (presumably) body guard and personal assistant and the small audience of regulars in the public gallery were able to watch Justice Riordan's evidently keen interest in this company's corporate practice.

Let's hope it will all come out in the wash!

Still to come

There are many elements yet to be tidied up --- JTI-Macdonald may call a few more witnesses in response to the testimony of Mr. Poirier. Imperial Tobacco has yet to file some exhibits. And the three companies have yet to declare their proof in defence closed. These events have yet to be scheduled.

The trial resumes ...  but when?

This post has been back-dated to provide consistency in indexing