Tobacco Company Sues Source in Unbroadcast ’60 Minutes’ Report : Litigation: Brown & Williamson is also seeking to prevent its former employee from testifying.
Jeffrey Wigand, the source of a controversial “60 Minutes” story on the tobacco industry, was sued Tuesday by the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. for theft, fraud and breach of contract--even though the interview was never broadcast.
The company is seeking unspecified damages against its former employee, and a Kentucky judge on Tuesday issued a restraining order preventing him from testifying on Nov. 29 in a lawsuit against the tobacco companies brought by the attorney general of Mississippi.
Louisville, Ky.-based Brown & Williamson charged in the suit filed there that Wigand, its former vice president of research and development, broke a confidentiality agreement by granting an interview to the CBS newsmagazine in which he criticized the company.
“Our complaint demonstrates that Mr. Wigand has an appalling disregard for the law,” Gary Morrisroe, attorney for B&W;, said in a statement. “Wigand attempts to portray himself as some kind of a hero when, in reality, he is simply out for personal gain.”
Morrisroe charged that Wigand “personally profited from B&W; information that he possessed, selling himself as an ‘expert witness’ in lawsuits against the tobacco industry.”
Wigand, now a high school teacher in Louisville, was served with legal papers by B&W; as he left campus. His lawyer denied the charges.
“Brown & Williamson has demonstrated yet again that it will resort to any means to prevent the public from learning about its misconduct,” Richard Scruggs, Wigand’s attorney, said in an interview. “We’re going to take action in the state of Mississippi to hold B&W; in contempt of court for interfering with a judicial investigation. We are confident that the courts of Kentucky will not allow themselves to be used for long to conceal this fraud on the public health.”
In addition, Scruggs said, “Jeff Wigand is going to file a countersuit against B&W.; He did not do anything wrong.”
In granting the interview to “60 Minutes,” Wigand had been promised anonymity by CBS. But after network attorneys ordered the interview killed because they feared a lawsuit by B&W; over the confidentiality agreement, a transcript was leaked to the New York Daily News, which published excerpts and his name last Friday.
Wigand told correspondent Mike Wallace that B&W;, for whom he worked from 1988 until being fired in 1993, had scrapped plans to develop a safer cigarette and had knowingly used a pipe-tobacco additive that induces cancer in lab animals.
He also said that he believed B&W; Chief Executive William Sandefur perjured himself when he and other tobacco-company executives testified before a Congressional committee about the addictive effects of nicotine.
Brown & Williamson officials could not be reached for further comment Tuesday. The company previously had declined to respond to Wigand’s allegations in the New York Daily News.
In an interview with The Times on Sunday, Scruggs said that his client would corroborate the allegations that he made to “60 Minutes” in the Mississippi lawsuit. The state is attempting to force the tobacco companies to pay the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses among the poor.
Even without broadcasting the story, CBS may have to pay Wigand’s legal fees in the breach-of-contract suit. On Sunday, CBS News President Eric Ober said that the network “greatly regrets” the identification of Wigand through the leaked transcript and would “fully indemnify” him.
A spokeswoman for CBS said Tuesday, “We have no further comment beyond our statement on Sunday.”