Can eight jurors convince one more to side with a class of plaintiffs suing cigarette-maker Philip Morris? That question is on the minds of plaintiff and defense lawyers alike as they wait for word from the jury that Monday morning said it was deadlocked.

Jurors began deliberating late in the afternoon of Oct. 17 following closing arguments in the trial that took place in Judge Michael David’s courtroom in the St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. By marketing the cigarettes as having lowered tar and nicotine, Philip Morris reassured the class that smoking Marlboro Gold cigarettes was healthier — or not as unhealthy — as smoking regular cigarettes, the plaintiffs alleged.

In a class action suit in St. Louis Circuit Court, smokers allege that Philip Morris knew that its “light” cigarettes were no lower in tar and nicotine. Bloomberg News file photo

On Monday, the courtroom turned into a waiting room as lawyers wandered in and out and the jury sent down notes to the judge.

What each side wanted seemed to change with each request the jury submitted.

On Monday morning, when all the parties knew was that the jury was deadlocked 8 to 4, plaintiffs lawyer Mark Bronson was before the judge arguing for a mistrial. At that point, the Neuman, Bronson & Wallis lawyer told David that “any further instruction would in effect be coercive.” Bronson said that includes a response asking the jury whether further deliberation would be helpful.

Shortly after the jury notified the judge that it was deadlocked, it sent another note asking to see an exhibit the note described as an interoffice communication about light cigarettes being a gimmick. The judge responded only to the first note, over the plaintiffs’ objection, asking about the utility of further deliberations.

After lunch, the jury sent down another note, stating that it wanted to see the exhibit before it could answer the judge’s question. The jury also asked whether, if it found for the plaintiff, would it be bound by any damage amount.

This time defense lawyer Beth Wilkinson argued for a mistrial.

“I don’t know how you could respond to [question] number one when we know how they’re leaning,” she said.
The judged denied this motion too, and told the jurors he was “not permitted to comply” with the exhibit request. In response to the question about being bound to a certain amount, the judge told the jurors they had to be guided by the instructions as given.

The jury continued to deliberate late Monday afternoon.