Tobacco firm sues former executive He gave interview, but CBS didn't use it

November 22, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. filed suit yesterday against a former executive who was the subject of an interview for the CBS news program "60 Minutes" that never aired.

CBS was not named as a defendant. The suit accuses the executive, Jeffrey Wigand, a former vice president of research for Brown & Williamson, of theft, fraud and breach of contract. But the network had said in a statement Sunday that it would indemnify Mr. Wigand against lawsuits arising from his agreement to be interviewed.

Richard Scruggs, Mr. Wigand's lawyer, said "CBS is standing good for it."

CBS lawyers ordered "60 Minutes" not to broadcast the interview because they feared a lawsuit from Brown & Williamson based on Mr. Wigand's promise to the tobacco maker not to disclose internal company information.

The tobacco company yesterday was also granted a temporary restraining order that prohibits Mr. Wigand from revealing any further information about Brown & Williamson.

He is scheduled to give a deposition Nov. 29 in a state suit in Mississippi against the tobacco manufacturers.

CBS had no comment on the suit, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Kentucky. Thomas Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson, said: "The lawsuit is directed solely at Jeff Wigand. Regarding CBS, at this time we're evaluating our options."

The suit, among other things, accuses Mr. Wigand of breaching his confidentiality agreements by speaking to CBS and by providing documents in October to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for articles about Brown & Williamson's interest in a nicotine patch manufacturer.

Mr. Wigand's lawyer said the confidentiality agreements were not valid because they were "extorted out of" Mr. Wigand.

In a statement, Gary Morrisroe, a lawyer for Brown & Williamson, called Mr. Wigand "a master of deceit" and said, "Wigand attempts to portray himself as some kind of hero, when in reality he is simply out for personal gain."

Mr. Wigand declined to comment yesterday. But Mr. Scruggs said Mr. Wigand would counter-sue to accuse the company of, among other things, fraud for altering documents.

The lawyer also said he would seek indemnification from Brown & Williamson for his client.

"He was a vice president of a company that sells cigarettes laced with cancer-causing chemicals," Mr. Scruggs said, so he needs to be indemnified from suits filed by the public against Brown and Williamson.

Mr. Scruggs said that after Mr. Wigand was fired in 1993, he was sued by the company "on a pretext," because "he had said some bad things about the company's chief executive, Thomas Sandefur."

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