Racial slur causes mistrial in Florida tobacco case

A Broward judge declared a mistrial in the case of a Cooper City widow suing cigarette maker Philip Morris over the death of her chain-smoking husband after a witness used a racial slur.

Robert Proctor, a Stanford University history professor and an expert witness for the widow, used the ''N word'' in court in an answer to a question from a Philip Morris lawyer about the educator's research into the tobacco industry.

Proctor did not use the ''N word'' pejoratively, said Alex Alvarez, a lawyer for Elaine Hess, who claims her husband's 1997 death from lung cancer was caused by his addiction to nicotine.

Rather, Proctor was explaining how he uses the word as a ''key'' search term in conducting research, Alvarez said. Proctor is the author of Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don't Know About Cancer.

Nonetheless, Philip Morris lawyer Kenneth Reilly objected and asked Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld to declare a mistrial.

''The judge thought that was prejudicial and granted a mistrial,'' said attorney Gary Paige, who also represents Hess. Streitfeld, through his judicial assistant, declined to comment.

Philip Morris spokesman Jack Marshall said: "We believe the judge did what the law required under the circumstances.''

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