A jury said Thursday that Hustler magazine and its publisher, Larry Flynt, libeled an executive at rival Penthouse magazine and awarded her $2 million in damages.
Kathy Keeton, a Penthouse vice chairman and president of Omni magazine, had sued Hustler and Flynt, claiming she was libeled by material published in the sexually explicit magazine since 1975. She had offered to settle the case in May for $1.6 million, but lawyers for Hustler and Flynt declined.
Keeton alleged that Flynt acted maliciously in publishing, among other things, a cartoon that falsely suggested she had contracted venereal disease from Penthouse publisher Robert Guccione, with whom she lives, and a nude pictorial spread of a model who was identified as Keeton.
“What I’ve established is that Mr. Flynt cannot do whatever he wants to everybody without consequences,” Keeton said. “I hope it will prevent him in the future from doing the same thing to other people.”
Lawyers for Hustler magazine said they would appeal the verdict.
In Los Angeles, spokesman Jim Kohls said Flynt would have no immediate comment. But Kohls said, “We’re confident we’ll win on appeal.”
Allan Kingsbury, the jury foreman, said that Keeton suffered “nine years of malice.”
“All of us agreed on that 100%,” Kingsbury said of the four-woman, two-man U.S. district court jury, which deliberated 70 minutes before returning the verdict.
Hustler’s lawyers tried to paint Keeton, a former striptease dancer, as a woman whose reputation cannot be libeled. Lawyer Dort Bigg told the jury that on the issue of whether Keeton’s reputation had been damaged, at most the jurors should give her a token amount, $1 in damages.