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Scenes from the last great tobacco war being waged in a courtroom in Orlando 

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That's what happens when tens of millions of dollars ride on the parsing of sentences. What the tobacco attorneys want is for today's judge – Ralph Erickson, a burly North Dakotan flown in from Fargo to preside in the Florida trial – to rule against Byrd's rhetorical devices, so they can use that ruling against the earlier $27 million judgment.

Erickson walks a fine line. He doesn't want inflammatory rhetoric in his court, which might create grounds for an appeal. But he also understands the game that's being played here.

"I'm just going to tell you this, that I am not in the habit of allowing people to stand up and sort of wave the bloody shirt," the judge cautions.

There's no ruling on the motion, which Byrd's colleagues will later refer to as "Kenny's Greatest Hits." Nevertheless, the episode offers insight into Big Tobacco's strategy: Resist at every step, bury the plaintiff in paper, surprise them with motions – and set up the next appeal. The large team of tobacco attorneys will file many such motions in the course of the trial, often generating new ones overnight.

Byrd has seen this before and he'll see it again. He and his colleagues are part of the biggest tobacco war in U.S. legal history, a catalog of thousands of individual cases being slugged out, one at a time, in Florida. The costs on both sides, human and financial, are huge. The plaintiffs stand to gain Powerball-sized judgments. The defendants just have to outlive them.

This is the story of one such trial.

Until the mid-1990s, comparing Big Tobacco to the 1927 New York Yankees would be unfair. Babe Ruth's team wasn't nearly that good. As recently as 20 years ago, cigarette manufacturers hadn't lost a single case.

That changed in 1995. A Jacksonville court found tobacco giant Brown & Williamson liable for the lung cancer of Grady Carter, who'd smoked their Lucky Strike brand for 43 years. The reckoning came when his attorney, Norwood "Woody" Wilner, introduced a sheaf of 21 documents stolen from tobacco companies. The files didn't just show that executives knew cigarettes were harmful. They showed that the companies hid research that proved it.

The verdict was relatively small – Carter was awarded $750,000 after the three-week trial – but the effects were seismic. After the ruling, tobacco stocks plummeted $14 billion in value in a single day. Three years later, Howard Engle and six others brought a class-action suit in Miami against Big Tobacco. Engle was a Miami Beach pediatrician and lifelong smoker who had tried for years to quit but was unable. Saddled with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Engle was emblematic of thousands of Floridians: an aging smoker, addicted while he was young, now faced with a fatal lung disorder.

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