NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NINTH CIRCUIT · Libel · Jan. 17, 2006
Flowers defamation suit against ex-Clinton aides dismissed
Jan. 17, 2006 · A federal appeals court in San Francisco dismissed a defamation suit against Sen. Hillary Clinton and ex-presidential advisers James Carville and George Stephanopoulos because Gennifer Flowers, who claimed to have had an affair with former president Bill Clinton, filed her suit against Clinton too late, and could not prove that Carville or Stephanopoulos had acted with actual malice — knowingly or recklessly disregarding the truth of their statements.
Flowers’ suit arose out of statements made by Carville and Stepanopoulos in 1998 about audio tapes Flowers provided of her conversations with Clinton to the supermarket tabloid The Star in 1992. CNN subsequently reported the tapes may have been doctored. Carville and Stephanopoulos appeared separately on “Larry King Live” in January and February 1998, respectively, and said that CNN had reported the tapes had been doctored. In March 1999, Stephanopoulos wrote a book, “All Too Human,” in which he said the tapes were a “setup.” Finally, on May 20, 2000, Stephanopoulos told NBC’s Tim Russert that the tapes were selectively edited.
Flowers filed a defamation suit against Carville, Stephanopoulos and Little Brown & Co. — publisher of “All Too Human” — and a civil conspiracy suit against Hillary Clinton.
“It boils down to when Stephanopoulos and Carville made statements about news organizations that had investigated her claims and found that the tapes of her phone conversations with Bill may have been doctored or selectively edited,” said Matthew A. Leish, who represented Stephanopoulos and Little Brown in the case.
In March 2004, the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas ruled that Flowers could not present evidence that the defendants acted with malice and granted their motion to dismiss the case. Flowers dropped her case against Little Brown and appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.). On Jan. 9, without hearing oral arguments, a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the dismissal.
“I think the fact that the Ninth Circuit didn’t even hear oral arguments in the case tells you what they thought of the claims,” Leish said.
With respect to the claim against Clinton, the panel ruled that “this claim accrued no later than April 1995, by which time Flowers had discovered all necessary facts,” according to the unsigned decision. “Flowers first named Clinton as a defendant on January 20, 2000, after the expiration of the four-year limitations period.”
The court found that, “Flowers presented insufficient evidence of actual malice to prevent summary judgment,” for the defamation claims against Stephanopoulos and Carville. “No reasonable jury could find that either defendant (1) knew that Flowers’s audiotapes were not ‘doctored’ or ‘selectively edited,’ (2) knew or ignored obvious signs that the news reports regarding the audiotapes were false, or (3) intentionally or recklessly made statements that were materially different from the news reports,” the opinion stated.
Leish is hopeful the case is ended. “I suspect that it’s finally over,” he said. “But anything’s possible. I do think it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would tackle this issue.”
(Flowers v. Carville; Media Counsel: Matthew A. Leish, Davis Wright Tremaine, New York, N.Y.) — CM