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Anti-Tobacco Lawyers Paid Aide for Leaks, Deposition Says

May 01, 1996|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A former paralegal who leaked documents about secret tobacco company studies of cigarette health dangers says he received more than $100,000 from anti-tobacco lawyers.

The testimony unsealed Monday discloses that Merrell Williams said Mississippi attorney Richard Scruggs and his partners helped him buy a $109,000 house, co-signed two car loans and paid him a salary. The testimony was part of a deposition in a lawsuit against Williams.

Williams maintains that except for the salary, everything else was a loan.

Documents from Brown & Williamson that Williams turned over in 1994 laid the groundwork for proposed Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco products and are key evidence in a number of major lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Williams was a paralegal for a Louisville law firm retained by Brown & Williamson to analyze documents that might be evidence in smoking litigation. The tobacco company is suing Williams over his release of the documents.

"The admission by Williams raises serious ethical questions regarding how far plaintiffs' lawyers will go to win lawsuits," Brown & Williamson lawyer Gordon Smith told USA Today.

Brown & Williamson spokesman Joe Helewicz said the "whole issue revolves around confidential and proprietary information."

Scruggs said the money supplied by himself and his partners was meant to help Williams, a man he described as doing a public good when he brought the documents to anti-tobacco lawyers.

Scruggs said the deposition had been made public at Williams' request.

"We didn't buy documents from him," Scruggs told the newspaper. Mississippi was the first of seven states that have sued the tobacco companies to recover health-care expenditures resulting from smoking-related illnesses. Scruggs has been retained by the state to help with the suit.

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