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Philip Morris gets burned for trashing e-mail

Tobacco giant fined $2.75 million for deleting e-mail after judge ordered company to preserve it.

Philip Morris has been fined $2.75 million for deleting e-mail after a judge ordered the company to preserve it. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington, D.C., told the cigarette maker in October 1999 to keep "all documents and other records" that could potentially be relevant to the massive lawsuit brought by the U.S. government over the health risks posed by Philip Morris products, and the company's tobacco marketing practices.

Philip Morris, part of the Altria Group, had a long-standing policy of deleting all e-mail that was more than 60 days old. Because it did not change that rule until early 2002, correspondence between top managers was lost. "It is essential that such conduct be deterred (and) that the corporate and legal community understand that such conduct will not be tolerated," Kessler wrote in her decision last week.