WASHINGTON—Former California congressman Gary Condit is back in federal court, again charging author Dominick Dunne with defamation.
Condit and Dunne have fought it out before, settling an earlier defamation suit just hours before Condit was set to face explicit questioning about his sex life. Now, Condit claims Dunne resumed slandering him a year ago on national television.
"Dunne knew that the defamatory statements about ... Condit were nothing more than unverified and unsubstantiated rumor and gossip," the lawsuit states.
Condit filed this latest in his series of defamation lawsuits in federal court in Manhattan, the same place he'd battled Dunne previously. He barely slipped it in under the deadline, as the one-year statute of limitations was about to expire.
"I think there is absolutely no merit to this case," Dunne's attorney, Paul LiCalsi, said Wednesday. "I think it is dead on arrival."
Although he'd demanded $11 million from Dunne previously—the final settlement from the initial lawsuit remains private—Condit hasn't specified how much money he's asking for this time. The gist of his argument, though, is familiar.
A raconteur, novelist and cable-television commentator on celebrity crimes, Dunne has opined frequently on the disappearance of one-time Washington intern Chandra Levy. Raised in Modesto, Calif., Levy was last seen in public on April 30, 2001. Her body was discovered in Washington's Rock Creek Park a year later; the police don't have any known suspects in her murder.
Dunne and a cadre of other commentators began weighing in almost from the start, intrigued by the question of the married Condit's relationship with the much younger woman. Condit, who left office in 2003, doesn't deny much-publicized accounts that he eventually told police he was sexually involved with Levy.
On Nov. 16, 2005, Dunne appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" and spoke about everything from the "Howdy Doody" television show to the murder of his own daughter. Then guest host Bob Costas asked him about Condit, according to a transcript of the show.
Dunne first corrected Costas' summary of what Dunne had previously said. Dunne then repeated his belief that Condit was still holding on to Levy secrets—a statement that Condit claims in his lawsuit to be evidence of defamation.
"I think he knows more about what did happen than he has ever said," Dunne told Costas, repeating the statement a second time.
Costas pressed for more, but Dunne was finished.
"It is something in my life that is over with," Dunne said. "It has been an extraordinarily unpleasant experience for me and I think for Mr. Condit. And we made a settlement and that's all I'm going to say."
In defamation cases, there's a difference between expressing an opinion and asserting a fact. LiCalsi noted that in the initial lawsuit, Dunne won a judge's protection for voicing a belief that was analogous to the statement that's now at the center of the new lawsuit.
"It was a constitutionally protected statement of opinion," LiCalsi said.
Nonetheless, Condit's attorney, Mark E. Goidell, now argues that Dunne's expressed opinion led "millions of members of the public" to wrongly believe that Condit was involved in Levy's disappearance. This caused stress, suffering and "permanent impairment to (Condit's) ability to obtain or maintain gainful employment," Goidell argued.
Condit's most recent known employment was as owner of a Baskin-Robbins franchise in Arizona. The ice cream company has since sued Condit and other family members for failing to make payments and meet other requirements.
Condit also is suing a small Arizona newspaper that he claims libeled him.
The lawsuit was filed in July against the Sonoran News, but it doesn't show signs of being aggressively pursued.
"We still have not received Condit's mandatory disclosure statement," Sonoran News attorney Dan Barr said Wednesday. "It is about one month late, and no reason has been given."
Condit's previous attorney, L. Lin Wood, said Wednesday that he has "no involvement at all" with the latest lawsuit. Goidell, a Long Island-based attorney who'd assisted Wood in the earlier case, couldn't be reached to comment Wednesday.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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