NEW YORK CITY – Only in America could an 85-year-old judge put himself in charge of a $200 billion lawsuit with 60 million plaintiffs.
It happened Sept. 25, when U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein of New York certified a national class action over "light" cigarettes.
The case he certified as a class action claims cigarette makers deceived smokers by advertising "light" cigarettes that caused as many health problems as regular cigarettes.
In Illinois, a similar claim reaped a $10 billion verdict on behalf of three million smokers from Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron.
Last year, however, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned Byron. The Justices held that the Federal Trade Commission approved advertising of light cigarettes.
In Weinstein's case, class counsel estimates that it represents 60 million smokers. That class would be 20 times as big as Byron's class.
In Weinstein's case, class counsel estimates damages at $200 billion. By coincidence or not, that is also 20 times as big as Byron's verdict.
At those rates the average plaintiff claims $3,333 in damages.
Weinstein set trial for January.
He got his job from President Lyndon Johnson, and for almost 40 years he has polished his anti-establishment credentials.
According to Answers.com, as a young judge he wore no black robe and as a senior judge he refused to hear drug cases because he disagreed with sentencing guidelines.
The website offers the following information:
Weinstein put himself through Brooklyn College by working on docks, interrupting his studies to serve in the Navy in World War II.
He received a law degree at Columbia University in 1949 and began teaching there in 1952.
He led a group that rewrote the rules of civil procedure for New York.
From 1963 to 1965 he was county attorney for Nassau County, New York.
In 1967 he advised the state constitutional convention.
Johnson appointed him to the bench in the Eastern District of New York April 15, 1967.
He believed judicial trappings separated the public from courts. He often sat at conference table with parties in a dispute.
He became chief judge in 1981.
In a class action of veterans over Agent Orange exposure, he pressured chemical manufacturers to establish a $180 million fund.
In 1988 he took senior status, allowing him to choose the cases he would hear. He chose complex cases.
In 1990 he and nine other judges tackled a backlog of asbestos cases. They consolidated cases into three classes for trial in federal court in Pennsylvania.
In 1992 he helped consolidate cases involving an anti-miscarriage drug and cases of repetitive stress injury.
According to Wikipedia, the Internet's user-contributed encyclopedia, Weinstein "is viewed as a particularly creative judge in the area of mass torts."