THE DISTRICT

Judge Rejects Class Action Tobacco Suit

A D.C. Superior Court judge has snuffed out a massive class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry brought on behalf of thousands of District smokers, ex-smokers and their heirs.

Judge Richard A. Levie, in an opinion Friday, found that the lawsuit presents too many individual issues to be placed under the umbrella of a single class action case. While smokers' attorneys could show that cigarettes cause harm, it would take an "individual assessment" of each smoker's injury to prove legally that tobacco companies were at fault, Levie wrote. That, he said, could require thousands of individual mini-trials.

A spokesman for Philip Morris Cos., one of the defendants, said the lawsuit is the 14th of more than two dozen class action cases rejected by courts across the nation. Lawyers from the Baltimore law firm of Peter Angelos, which represents the smokers, did not return calls for comment.

This month, a Florida jury ruled against the tobacco industry in the first class action lawsuit by sick smokers to come to trial, finding that cigarette makers addicted and defrauded smokers and could be forced to pay billions of dollars in damages.

But a group of trial lawyers who have filed other class actions in 26 states have not fared so well. Only one of those cases has cleared the early hurdles leading to a trial. D.C. lawyer John P. Coale, who is involved in those cases, said: "You win some, you lose some, and unfortunately we've lost a lot."

Forum on Y2K Readiness Set for Tonight

A public forum will be held tonight to provide information and answer questions about the readiness of District government, utilities, hospitals and others for the year 2000 date change.

The forum also is intended to gather information on where additional preparation is needed to fix programming glitches with some computers when the year changes--the so-called Y2K problem.

The meeting, sponsored by a coalition of government agencies and businesses, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Ira Aldridge Theater at Howard University, 2455 Sixth St. NW. Shuttle bus service will be available between the Howard University-Shaw Metro station and the theater from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and from 9 to 10 p.m.

Clinic Seeks to Honor Person With HIV

Whitman-Walker Clinic is accepting nominations for its annual Courage Award, which honors a person living with HIV/AIDS in the Washington area who is a source of inspiration for others with the disease.

The award will be presented at the 13th annual AIDS Walk Washington on Sunday, Sept. 26. The deadline for submitting nominations is Aug. 18. Applications may be obtained by calling the AIDS Walk office (202-332-WALK).

VIRGINIA

Fortsmouth Firehouse Leaders Resign

Avoiding a Monday deadline and a county takeover, the entire leadership slate of the Fortsmouth Volunteer Fire Company voted itself out of office over the weekend.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors accused the leadership of the fire company--which serves 16 square miles in rural Waterlick, about 77 miles west of Washington--of embezzlement, sexual impropriety and financial mismanagement. The allegations were never proved, and a state police investigation earlier in the year did not produce any criminal charges.

In a vote last week, the county board ordered the fire company's leadership to resign by Monday, or the entire department would be forbidden to put out fires. In a meeting Saturday and under "duress," according to several signed statements, the seven officers offered their resignations.

"I presume it's going to end up well, since they're showing a lot of good sense out there," said board Chairman James L. McManaway (R-Shenandoah).

Others weren't so sure. Yesterday, county officials were seeking to appoint an interim chief to preside over what was a 33-member company. One member of the company predicted as many as a dozen additional resignations, which could put the company at less than the 20 members required by state law for a fire department to operate.

Replica of Shakespeare's Theater Planned

A theater company plans to build a replica of William Shakespeare's Globe Theater in the Shenandoah Valley city of Staunton.

The $10 million project would include the open-air Globe, to be completed by 2005, and an indoor Elizabethan playhouse expected to open in 2001.

"There are Globe semi-replicas scattered around the country," said Sidney Berger, vice president of the Shakespeare Theater Association of America. "But, as far as I know, there is no true replica."

The Globe project is in its early stages, said Ralph Alan Cohen, executive director of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, the theater company behind the project. An architect has been hired to research the structure, but no site has been selected.

The architect has made drawings for the indoor theater, modeled after London's Blackfriars theater, where Shakespeare presented his work to royals who would not mix with the riffraff at the public Globe. Fund-raising is expected to begin in the fall.

MARYLAND

Montgomery Gets Development Grant

Montgomery County has been awarded $8.6 million in federal grant money designed to promote economic development in poor neighborhoods, Maryland's two U.S. senators announced yesterday.

County officials had counted on the Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, secured by U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Democrats, before the money was officially released to Montgomery last week.

About $500,000 will help build the Easter Seals Day Care Center in downtown Silver Spring. The Long Branch community, a diverse neighborhood near Silver Spring, will receive $5.8 million for education, job training and affordable housing efforts. An additional $2 million will assist about 2,000 county families with housing costs.

Montgomery will also receive $207,000 to build emergency shelters.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"When you walk into the water, it feels like sea grass or something around your legs. But it's tentacles."

--Joe Elburn on the prevalence of stinging sea nettles (jellyfish) in the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park in Maryland.

--Page B1