Gladys Kessler

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Judge Gladys Kessler serves on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She was appointed in July 1994. She was the judge who presided over the The U.S. Government's racketeering case against Big Tobacco.

The case lasted six years, and after 9 months of trial, hundreds of depositions and thousands of exhibits, on August 17, 2006, Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the Government had proven its case and found that the tobacco company defendants had indeed violated the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Specifically, Judge Kessler ruled that:

Judge Kessler ruled that:

  • Defendants knew for fifty years or more that cigarette smoking caused disease, but repeatedly denied that smoking caused adverse health effects. Defendants publicly distorted and minimized the hazards of smoking for decades.
  • Defendants concealed and suppressed research data and other evidence showing nicotine is addictive, and withheld information about their internal research on addiction, from the American public, the government, and the public health community, including the United States Surgeon General. The Defendants acted this way to maintain profits by keeping people smoking and attracting new consumers, to avoid iability, and prevent regulation of the industry.
  • Defendants falsely denied that they can and do control the level of nicotine delivered to smokers to create and sustain addiction.
  • Defendants falsely marketed and promoted low tar/"light" cigarettes as less harmful than "full flavor" cigarettes to keep people smoking and sustain corporate revenues.
  • From the 1950s to the present, different tobacco companies using different methods have intentionally marketed cigarettes to young people under the age of 21 in order to recruit "replacement smokers" who would ensure the future economic viability of the Tobacco Industry.
  • Defendants publicly denied, while internally acknowledging, that secondhand tobacco smoke is hazardous to nonsmokers.
  • At various times, Defendants attempted to, and did suppress and conceal scientific research and destroy documents relevant to their public and litigation positions. [1]

Ruling against tobacco industry upheld on appeal

In May, 2009, a U.S. federal Appeals Court upheld Judge Kessler's racketeering verdict. All three judges on the panel affirmed that evidence showed that the U.S. cigarette companies had systematically lied for decades to hide the dangers of smoking, and were guilty of fraud and conspiracy to mislead the public.[2]


Kessler received a B.A. from Cornell University and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School. Following her graduation, she was employed by the National Labor Relations Board, served as Legislative Assistant to a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Congressman, worked for the New York City Board of Education, and then opened a public interest law firm. In June 1977, she was appointed an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. From 1981 to 1985, Judge Kessler served as Presiding Judge of the Family Division and was a major architect of one of the nation’s first Multi-Door Courthouses. She served as President of the National Association of Women Judges from 1983 to 1984, served on the Executive Committee and as vice president of the ABA’s Conference of Federal Trial Judges, and on the U.S. Judicial Conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Management for six years. In 2009, Judge Kessler was co-chair of the Committee of the National Academy of Sciences on the Development of the Third Edition of the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence of the Federal Judicial Center. She is vice-chair of the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure.[3]


  1. United States District Court, District of Columbia United States Final Proposed Finding of Fact, case No. 99-CV-02496 (GK), United States v. Philip Morris, et al. 68 page summary of 1700+ page Findings of Fact, accessed June 15, 2009
  2. Diane Barts U.S. appeals court agrees tobacco companies lied Reuters. May 22, 2009
  3. U.S. District Court, District of Columbia Biosketch of Judge Gladys Kessler, accessed June 15, 2009

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