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This Time, Judge Judy’s a Defendant

Litigating lawyers . . . Objection, babe . . . Tricky winds

It’s bad enough to share a name with a dead president whose most famous quotation is “I am not a crook!” But wait, it gets worse for Richard A. Nixon. He charges in a lawsuit that acid-tongued Judge Judy made him look like a bad lawyer on television.

Nixon’s Los Angeles Superior Court suit seeks damages of $200,000 from Judge Judy Sheindlin, a production company and Spelling Corp. It alleges defamation and slander.

According to the suit, on her May 28, 1998, show, Sheindlin sarcastically asked Nixon questions like “Where did you go to law school?” and “Where do you practice law?”

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Nixon says he appeared on the show as a witness for a friend, and not as a lawyer. Judge Judy’s chiding words are defamatory, court papers charge, because “they tend to show [Nixon] is incompetent in his capacity as a lawyer.” Several audience members said, in effect, “That attorney doesn’t know what he’s doing,” according to the suit.

The defendants are keeping their own counsel.

THE PAY’S THE THING: Actress Sondra Locke’s former lawyer is suing her, Warner Bros. and two elite law firms, saying that they structured a recent court settlement to cut the lawyer out of $1 million in fees.

Peggy Garrity had represented “Client Jane Doe,” as court papers identify Locke, since Dec. 30, 1993. Locke alleged that actor Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. set her up in a sham movie deal to settle a palimony case after the actors’ bitter 1989 breakup.

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Garrity won a settlement from Eastwood 2 1/2 years ago, but at the time the suit against Warner Bros. had been dismissed.

“She was very handsomely paid by Sondra in the first litigation,” said Locke’s new lawyer, Neil Papiano. “Sondra’s not trying to duck anything. We’ve told [Garrity] she’ll get what she’s due.”

Garrity says that she is owed for persuading the state Court of Appeal to reinstate the Warner Bros. case, and for work she performed, including 20 depositions. She put 2,500 hours of work into the case, she maintains, only to be dumped and replaced by Papiano in May 1998.

The suit also names Warner Bros. and its lawyers, O’Melveny & Myers. “Entertainment law is not amusing,” said Garrity, who also seeks $5 million in punitive damages.

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“No comment,” said Locke. Ditto O’Melveny & Myers.

THIS JUST IN: Maryland’s second-highest court has ruled that the word “babe” is not to be used in addressing female lawyers during legal proceedings.

“Babe? You called me babe? What generation are you from?” attorney Susan Green protested when opposing counsel addressed her that way during a case in which his client was accused of giving her client herpes.

“At least I didn’t call you bimbo,” was all 69-year-old lawyer Alan Harris had to say.

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HEARST APPEAL: After nearly half a century, the will of the late media baron William Randolph Hearst, at 125 pages the longest and most complex ever filed in California, is as ironclad as ever. It put the family’s assets and corporate affairs in the hands of a single board of trustees and contains a clause that threatens to disinherit any of the 35 heirs who protest the arrangement.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal recently turned back just such a challenge. In recent years, grandson William Randolph Hearst II has been quietly asking the courts to show him how he can make the trustees more accountable without triggering the so-called in terrorem clause.

Recently, a three-justice panel upheld an earlier decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner that limits the grounds under which Hearst II and other heirs can sue.

Court papers show that the new generation of Hearsts are chafing under the trustees’ hold. They believe the trustees are trying to take the family’s private corporate holdings public. In the process, the heirs contend, the board dominated by Hearst Corp. executives is diluting the family’s assets.

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Attorney John Sturgeon said WRH II and his faction of heirs are contemplating an appeal.

CAUGHT IN A TAILWIND: A veteran of U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam is suing CNN and Time Inc., charging that he was tricked into becoming a source for a discredited story that accused U.S. commandos of using sarin nerve gas to kill defectors.

Michael Hagen, a former Army Special Forces sergeant, accuses CNN, Time Inc., three producers and reporter Peter Arnett of defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional misrepresentation in his Los Angeles Superior Court suit.

Hagen says he was never told the story’s true focus while he was being interviewed. Instead, he alleges, he was led to believe he would be helped in his struggle with the Veterans Administration to obtain medical treatment for his war-related illnesses.

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The joint CNN-Time story appeared in June 1998, but was retracted after it could not be substantiated. CNN and Time apologized. Producers’ heads rolled. Arnett eventually resigned.

San Francisco attorney Kevin McLean alleges that CNN producers manipulated Hagen’s words to make it appear that he was a primary source for the story. “They took this brave war hero and made him look like a buffoon,” McLean said. “He was a hero, not a murderer, and he has to restore his reputation.”

The defendants aren’t commenting.


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