The Judge and The Historian

Ramses Delafontaine

Historians as Expert Witnesses Ramses Delafontaine

Lacy Ford

Lacy Ford

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Lacy Ford is specialized in the history of the American South and especially in the history of slavery. He has served in several tobacco-related court cases as an expert witness for the tobacco industry. Laura Maggi writes that Ford declared during a phone interview for The American Prospect that “he had made it a policy not to talk about the substance of his testimony.”[1] Ford also declined to comment on Jon Wiener’s article in The Nation.[2] He, furthermore, declined to give further information for an article in The Wall Street Journal.[3]

Ford’s testimony in tobacco litigation was questioned by the Gallup Organization who accused Ford of consistently picking polls that gave an inflated sense of the public’s awareness of health risks from smoking.[4] Ford received a letter from Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at the Gallup Organization, which read as follows: “Presenting selective data or distorting the meaning of individual Gallup poll questions out of context violates the purpose and the spirit in which these surveys were originally written.”[5] Lawyers for R.J. Reynolds “fired back a testy five-page letter accusing the Gallup organization of limiting free discussion by scholars and questioning whether the polling group is in league with plaintiff’s attorneys.”[6] The selectiveness by which industry experts make use of polling date is a common strategy for the industry’s witnesses, yet a peculiar standard for a “highly respected historian.”[7] Allan Brandt notes in his book The Cigarette Century that: “Lacy Ford, a well-known historian of early nineteenth-century southern proslavery radicalism, testified on behalf of the industry about public knowledge of tobacco science and the mass media in the 1950s, a subject and a period on which he had published no research at all.”[8]


[1] Maggi, Laura. 2001. Bearing Witness for Tobacco. The American Prospect, November 9. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[2] Wiener, Jon. 2010. Big Tobacco and the Historians. The Nation, February 15. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[3] Milo, Geyelin. 1997. How RJR Won its Latest Tobacco Case. The Wall Street Journal, May 7. Accessed 31 Oct 2014.

[4] Maggi, as n. 1. & Kyriakoudes, Louis. 2006. Historians’ Testimony on ‘Common Knowledge’ of the Risks of Tobacco Use: a Review and Analysis of Experts Testifying on Behalf of Cigarette Manufacturers in Civil Litigation. Tobacco Control 15, 111. See furthermore the report from Gallup: Saad, Lydia, and O’Brien, Steve. 1998. The Tobacco Industry Summons Polls to the Witness Stand: A Review on Public Opinion on the Risks of Smoking. Princeton: The Gallop Organization. LTDL. Bates Number: LGSRNON19980515.CF. Accessed 31 Oct 2014. & Milo, as n. 3.

[5] Milo, as n. 3.

[6] Milo, as n. 3.

[7] Martin, Jonathan. 2003. Historians at the Gate: Accommodating Expert Historical Testimony in Federal Courts. The New York University Law Review 78, 1540.

[8] Brandt, Allan. 2007. The Cigarette Century. The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of a Product that Defined America. New York: Basic Books, 495.