'Insider' Wigand compensated generously as unpaid tobacco fact witness

Steve Korris Feb. 14, 2008, 8:49am

Jeff Wigand...Russell Crowe played his role in the movie, "The Insider."

Wigand appeared in a segment of 60 Minutes which aired in 1999.

Dickie Scruggs

WHEELING, W. Va. - In a Disney film, "The Insider," scientist Jeff Wigand and lawyer Dickie Scruggs save America from evil cigarette makers.

In real life, Scruggs faces a bribery indictment in Mississippi and Circuit Judge Arthur Recht of Wheeling examines financial records of Smoke Free Kids, a foundation that pays Wigand $125,000 a year.

Cigarette makers Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Lorillard and Liggett-Myers want Recht to show them records of Smoke Free Kids before he holds statewide trial against them for 942 plaintiffs.

Recht ordered Wigand to produce the records Dec. 10, ruling he would review them and set a hearing to decide how much information to share with the cigarette makers.

As of Feb. 12, Recht had not set a hearing.

The companies claim that although Wigand testifies as an unpaid fact witness rather than a paid expert, attorneys compensate him generously.

Wigand doesn't discourage such suspicion.

He has testified that lawyers gave Smoke Free Kids $2 million; that South Carolina lawyer Ron Motley loaned him $505,000 so he could buy a condominium in Charleston, S.C., that he has stayed at Motley's home and on his yacht; that he stayed at the home of Scruggs, a Smoke Free Kids board member, along with Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, also a board member.

Moore, now in private practice, retained Scruggs as special assistant attorney general to recover damages from cigarette makers.

In November grand jurors at federal court in Oxford, Miss., charged that Scruggs and others conspired to bribe Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey.

Scruggs apparently panicked when lawyer John Jones, who had successfully defended him in a suit over asbestos fees, sued him over fees from Hurricane Katrina cases.

Now Wigand carries Scruggs's baggage into Recht's court.

Wigand carries his own baggage too.

He testified in 1995 that Brown & Williamson put rat poison in pipe tobacco, fueling national desire for retribution.

Years later, under oath, he called the statement "scientifically incorrect."

Once he testified at trial, left before cross examination and did not return.

A judge permitted cross examination by deposition.

Once, after he pleaded that an injury prevented him from testifying, sleuths tracked him like a personal injury plaintiff and photographed him in routine activities.

Disney Studios called Wigand an insider because he directed research at Brown & Williamson before he turned against the industry.

Disney donated funds to start Smoke Free Kids in 1998.

At a deposition in the West Virginia case he testified that his salary at the foundation has increased from $30,000 to $125,000.

When the deposition started, on Oct. 27, Kenneth McClain of Independence, Mo., and Gregory Leyh of Gladstone, Mo., represented Wigand.

Brown & Williamson attorney Christopher Kreiner of Winston-Salem, N.C., asked Wigand if McClain and Leyh contributed to Smoke Free Kids.

Wigand said, "I believe they have but I don't keep a record of everything that goes into the foundation. It gets sent to my accountants in New York City."

Kreiner asked if he intended to charge them for his time on this case.

"As a fact witness," Wigand answered, "I am not entitled to do that."

Resuming the next day, Kreiner asked about a $2 million contribution.

"It was a collection, I believe, as it was represented to me, of numerous lawyers who pooled or waived their fees to contribute for the donation," Wigand said.

"I don't know the names of the lawyers. I never asked," he said.

"I didn't ask for the donation," he said. "It was rendered to me without my solicitation."

The deposition resumed Dec. 19, and Brown & Williamson attorney Jeff Furr of Winston-Salem asked Wigand the last time the Smoke Free Kids board met in person.

Wigand said, "I think it was in 2003 just before I left Charleston, and then 2005 solely with Dick Scruggs, and he communicated the rest of it to the rest of the board members."

Furr asked if Motley loaned him $505,000 in 2002 to buy a condo, and Wigand said that was correct.

Furr asked if he still owned it, and Wigand said he sold it in 2003.

Furr asked if he paid Motley back, and Wigand said he partially repaid.

Furr asked how much he repaid, and Wigand said he couldn't recall.

Furr asked if he could give an estimate, and Wigand said no.

Furr asked how much he sold the condo for, and Wigand said he didn't recall.

Shifting focus, Furr asked Wigand why he didn't leave Brown & Williamson as he became aware of what he called unethical and immoral behavior.

"Primarily the health care benefits for my daughter," Wigand said.

Furr asked if he was ever unable to hire a scientist he wanted because he didn't have enough money, and Wigand said he didn't think so.

Furr asked if he spent more than $30 million on the laboratory, and Wigand said yes.

On Jan. 8 the deposition resumed and Furr asked Wigand if he approved research on safer cigarettes that Brown & Williamson sponsored at Kentucky, Louisville and Rochester universities, and Wigand said yes.

"Was there ever an instance," Furr asked, "where you wanted to augment Brown & Williamson's internal research and development department's skills through contract research, but you were unable to do so because of a lack of funds?"

Wigand said, "I don't know the answer to that."

The discussion turned to filters, and Furr asked if a Kool with no filter would deliver the same tar and nicotine as a Kool with a filter.

Wigand said, "Depending how it's measured."

Furr said, "Using the FTC tar and nicotine measurement system."

Wigand said, "The FTC does not reflect human smoking."

Furr asked if he ever wrote a memorandum criticizing the method while working at Brown & Williamson, and Wigand said he probably did.

"If you did," said Furr, "please bring it to trial with you."

Wigand said, "You are the ones who destroyed the documents."

Holding five documents about research at Southampton, England, Furr asked Wigand if he reviewed them.

Wigand said lawyers at Southampton edited documents before sending them out.

Furr said, "You have no evidence that any of these documents contained in exhibits 13 to 17 were edited by lawyers, do you?"

Wigand said, "I will have that evidence at trial."

Furr asked how he met plaintiff counsel Kenneth McClain, of Independence.

Wigand said, "I may have met him at an ATLA meeting where I presented. I'm not sure. I don't recall."

ATLA stands for Association of Trial Lawyers of America, now named the American Association for Justice.

Furr asked if his termination from Brown & Williamson in 1993 was involuntary, and Wigand said that was correct.

Furr said, "You did not want to be terminated as an employee, did you?"

Wigand said, "I wanted to protect my family and my income that I had that I was very dependent upon.

"My daughter's health and my family's welfare took precedence over my ethical conduct, yet I think in the end I took accountability and responsibility for that.

"Many more should do the same thing."

Wigand's deposition reached Recht about the same time that the records of Smoke Free Kids reached him.

Recht presides over the West Virginia cases through special appointment of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, where he once served as Justice.

He planned to start trial March 18 but granted a stay after Brown & Williamson asked him to wait for a decision in a tobacco case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wigand had previously shed light on his relations with lawyers in testimony at a bench trial before U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in the District of Columbia, in 2005.

He said he flew on Ron Motley's plane twice and stayed at his home and on his yacht.

Brown & Williamson attorney David Bernick of Chicago asked, "Isn't it true that Smoke Free Kids has received approximately two million dollars from approximately 50 trial lawyers, true or not?"

"Is that a question?" Wigand said.

Bernick said yes.

"I'm sorry," Wigand said. "I have to in some ways correct you."

Bernick said okay.

"The two million dollars was, in part, received from trial lawyers waiving their fees and also it came from U.S. Tobacco Company and was the subject of a court order in litigation in the state of New York," Wigand said.

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Organizations in this Story

State of New York
Albany, NY, United States
Albany, NY

American Association for Justice
777 6th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

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