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Videotape deposition won't be sealed in missing-intern libel suit

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Videotape deposition won’t be sealed in missing-intern libel suit

  • A federal judge denied writer Dominick Dunne’s motion to seal a videotape of Dunne’s potentially embarrassing deposition testimony in former Rep. Gary Condit’s libel suit.

Dec. 22, 2004 — Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne failed to show sufficiently good cause to seal a potentially embarrassing videotape of his deposition testimony given in September as part of former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit’s libel suit against him, a federal district judge has ruled.

In denying Dunne’s request for a protective order, Judge Peter K. Leisure in New York City cited the interest of public access in the high-profile case, which he said addresses “the propriety of a then-sitting United States Congressman in the discharge of his duties.”

Condit is suing Dunne for allegedly defaming him in print and on television by associating Condit with the 2001 disappearance of Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy, whose remains were discovered in May 2002. Dunne speculated about rumors that Levy was drugged and dumped from an airplane, or lured into a Middle Eastern sex-slave ring. Dunne also suggested that Condit was involved in the woman’s abduction because she was bothering him. Police have said repeatedly that Condit was not a suspect in Levy’s still-unsolved murder.

Dunne had sought an order barring public dissemination of the videotape — but not the written transcript of his testimony — to prevent Condit from trying to embarrass him. In October, the New York Post quoted Condit’s lawyer, Lin Wood, as saying that Dunne was in “deep, deep trouble” over his testimony, and that “the transcript will be interesting, but the video will be even more interesting.” Wood also said in an e-mail to Dunne’s attorney that “when the public learns of Mr. Dunne’s testimony, whatever reputation he enjoyed will be lost forever in my opinion.” Dunne claimed that release of the tape would taint the jury pool and deprive him of a fair trial.

But Leisure found that Wood’s statements were “on a par” with statements previously made by Dunne’s lawyer, Paul LiCalsi, who said that Dunne appears on the tape to be “exhausted and confused at times.” Dunne also claimed to be the victim of “bullying” by Wood.

“The embarrassment cited here is only that Dunne’s videotaped deposition might be misrepresented by the media through the use of sound bites,” the judge wrote in his Dec. 15 order. “While sound bites are a recognized Achilles heel of videotaped depositions . . . the fact that the media may edit a tape that may or may not be released by the parties does not warrant a protective order.”

Leisure also rejected Dunne’s claim that the tape’s disclosure would taint the jury pool. He downplayed the potential media attention that the tape might generate, agreeing with Condit’s lawyer that “the media frenzy” over the case “has subsided considerably.” Furthermore, the judge wrote, even if the video was shown to the public, “memories fade,” and any prejudice created by its broadcast would be uncovered during jury selection.

The interest in public access further warranted denial of Dunne’s request, especially since Dunne “publicly accused Mr. Wood of bullying him during his deposition”and cast doubt on the reliability of his own testimony, Leisure ruled.

Despite the court’s order, Dunne and Condit may still agree not to release the tape, under a separate court order governing confidential information in the case.

(Condit v. Dunne) KK

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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