NEWARK, FEB. 23 -- A plaintiff's lawyer today accused the counsel for Philip Morris Inc. and P. Lorillard Inc. of improperly deleting "damning information" from documents they were required to turn over for a smoker-death lawsuit.

During the sometimes bitter hearing, which was held without the jury present, Marc Z. Edell called the deleted material in two documents supplied by the companies "extremely inculpatory" and said that defense attorney Steven C. Parrish and his colleagues "got caught with their pants down."

U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin indicated that he will let the defense counsel attempt to justify the deletions Wednesday.

"If they cannot," Sarokin said, "I'm going to let the jury see both {versions} because I think if there was an intentional withholding of this information ... the jury should be permitted to draw an inference from that. And if there is a good faith basis for redacting {deleting}, then I'll keep it from going to the jury ..."

Parrish, of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City, Mo., called the deletions "perfectly proper." He said the defense acted at all times to comply "in good faith" with court orders, federal rules and an agreement with plaintiff's lawyers."

After reading one of the two documents that surfaced today, Sarokin said, "It's just inconceivable to me that any ruling by the magistrate could authorize the redaction of this paragraph."

The first document was a May 1970 letter to the president of the Tobacco Institute, former Kentucky Sen. Earle Clements, from Helmut Wakeham, Philip Morris' vice president for research and development. Sarokin read aloud the second of these two sentences:

"We may be able to emphasize the benefits of smoking without talking about the risks implied by the statistics. But we should be prepared to admit the possibility of some risk by being able at the same time to emphasize factually that benefits accompany the risk as they do in many other human pursuits."

The judge said he didn't know of any theory in law under which the deleted paragraph could be denied to plaintiff Antonio Cipollone, who is suing Philip Morris, Lorillard, and Liggett Group Inc. in connection with the lung-cancer death of his wife, Rose.

The second document, dated Oct. 15, 1973, was Wakeham's "Presentation to Philip Morris Board/Revised Draft." After a sentence that said, "The second trend is the intensifying pressure to develop a safe cigarette," the following was deleted:

"The European tobacco industry has agreed that smoking is harmful and is hard at work to develop 'less hazardous' products. Development and marketing of such cigarettes by European firms will put great pressure on Philip Morris International to do likewise.

"Once International markets a 'less hazardous' cigarette, her American counterpart will be able to do no less ..."

The dispute over documents began last year after R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a defendant in another smoker lawsuit, produced for Edell the full version of another document involving the Council for Tobacco Research, an industry funded group. In the version given to him for the Cipollone case, Edell said, a critical paragraph had been deleted.

Parrish said the deletion was "inadvertent," as were others in "a few" of the more than 100,000 documents released to Edell. This morning, he gave Edell the complete versions of the two documents that were discussed today. Edell mocked the inadvertence defense, calling it a cover for "a strategy decision."

He asked the judge to impose sanctions, but Sarokin did not comment on the suggestion.