Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred won $20,000 and a public apology Thursday from former state Sen. John Schmitz, who conceded that the feminist lawyer is “not a slick butch lawyeress,” as he described her in a 1981 press release.
“It’s always been my position that if I could force Sen. Schmitz to apologize to me and the people of California, that would satisfy me more than all the money in the world,” Allred said of the settlement of her $10-million libel suit against the former Newport Beach Republican.
The press release, drafted by an aide after Allred presented Schmitz with a chastity belt during a series of hearings he chaired on abortion, was entitled “Attack of the Bulldykes” and referred to an audience of “hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces” who had come in support of women’s right to choose abortion.
“I felt that these statements must not go unchallenged because they could deter members of the public from exercising their constitutional right to testify . . . on issues of public importance out of fear of being personally attacked,” Allred said after ratification of the settlement by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch.
Did Not Appear at Hearing
Schmitz, who did not appear at Thursday’s hearing, said he would have no comment on the settlement. “Maybe I’ll put out a press release later,” he suggested in a telephone interview.
Allred, who characterized the settlement as a “complete surrender” on the part of Schmitz, said she plans to donate the $20,000 to groups whose members she believes were maligned in the press release, including the National Council of Jewish Women, the Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center and the California Abortion Rights Action League.
It was not clear whether Schmitz will ask the state Senate, which has already paid about $30,000 in legal fees on Schmitz’s behalf, to pay all or part of the settlement. Schmitz was stripped of the committee chairmanship and reprimanded by the full Senate as a result of the press release.
“I’m not going to comment on that till we’re a little further down the line,” said Schmitz’s attorney, Donald A. Ruston. “This all occurred while he was in public office.” Ruston contends that state law authorizes payment of legal costs incurred by lawmakers in their official duties.
But Allred, who fought unsuccessfully to block state payment of Schmitz’s legal fees, said: “I don’t think the Senate Rules Committee should force the taxpayers to pay for Sen. Schmitz’s wrongful acts. . . . There is no rationale whatsoever, except to protect the old boys, insulate them from liability.”
Attacking the Media
Schmitz, a former board member of the John Birch Society and a 1972 presidential candidate of the American Independent Party, has claimed from the beginning that he instructed his aide, Brad Evans, to write a press release attacking the media for ignoring the substance of the abortion hearings and focusing on Allred’s dramatic presentation of the chastity belt.
Had he seen it before it was distributed, Schmitz said in a deposition, he would have rejected it. “You know, I’m a courageous guy, but I’m not a kamikaze pilot,” he declared.
But once the press release was distributed, Schmitz said, he thought that he had to stand by it. “If I’m a Marine Corps officer and a guy does something in my shop, I don’t go blubbering to my commanding officer and say, ‘It was Sgt. So-and-So who did it.’ I’ll say, ‘Sir, it happened in my outfit.’ ”
Contents of Apology
Schmitz’s apology notes that, “based on my past relationships with Gloria Allred, her husband and her family, I have never considered her to be and recognize that she is not a ‘slick butch lawyeress.’