A Hollywood stuntwoman has filed a libel suit against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his campaign organization, claiming that after she publicly accused him of having groped her, he attempted to ruin her reputation by suggesting she had an extensive criminal record.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Rhonda Miller, names Schwarzenegger as well as Sean Walsh, a former campaign spokesman, and the campaign, and seeks unspecified damages for “character assassination.” The actions have left her unable to get a job in the entertainment industry, the stuntwoman and sometime actress said.
Miller’s lawsuit stems from an e-mail the campaign sent out the day that she alleged Schwarzenegger had groped her on a movie set in 1991, pulling up her shirt and photographing her breasts and touching them as she fought him off.
The e-mail, which bore Walsh’s name and was widely distributed to reporters, said the media could access court documents from the Web site www.lasuperiorcourt.org/Criminal.
“Once you have accessed the site, type ‘Rhonda’ in the ‘first name’ field and ‘Miller’ in the ‘last name’ field,” the e-mail advised. Referring to Miller’s attorney, Gloria Allred, the e-mail went on to say that “we have to believe that as a lawyer, Gloria would have thoroughly checked the facts and background of the individual she presented at a news conference today.”
Reporters who followed the instructions in the e-mail were presented with an extensive list of crimes, ranging from forgery to prostitution to drug selling.
But that criminal record belonged to one or more other persons with Miller’s name but not her birth date.
When the e-mail was circulated, the Times accessed the Web site and typed in Miller’s name and birth date, Feb. 9, 1950 -- obtained from public records and Allred -- and no criminal records came up.
Informed that using Miller’s birth date turned up no criminal records, Walsh told a Times reporter that he had “worded that e-mail very carefully.” Walsh did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Some news outlets published or broadcast stories reporting that the woman who had accused Schwarzenegger had a criminal record. Allred said no media companies have been sued.
“Miss Miller has never been arrested in her life, she’s never been convicted of anything,” Paul Hoffman, Miller’s libel attorney said at a news conference Monday. “Gov. Schwarzenegger and his campaign libeled Miss Miller by calling her a convicted felon ... when she had the temerity to publicly talk about her experience with Gov. Schwarzenegger,” he said.
Hoffman was joined at a crowded podium at his law office in Venice by Miller and Allred, co-counsel on the libel suit. Allred said the damage to Miller “economically, emotionally and socially has been serious and may be long lasting.”
Schwarzenegger’s attorney, Martin Singer, said Monday that Miller’s claims were “absolutely without merit. We feel confident the lawsuit will be dismissed by the court.”
“Legally, it is our position that our client did not engage in any defamation or libel of this woman,” Singer said.
Erwin Chemerinsky, a USC constitutional law professor, said that for a defamation suit, Miller -- “clearly a private figure” -- has to prove that false information was published and that the people who published it “were at least negligent in what they did and that it harmed her reputation.”
Miller was the last of more than a dozen women who stated before the election that Schwarzenegger had sexually groped them. The campaign staunchly denied her charges.
On the eve of election day at a news conference at the office of Allred, a prominent Democratic attorney, Miller said that during the filming of “Terminator 2" in January 1991, Schwarzenegger had groped her. She also said that in 1994, he touched her breasts again on the set of the movie “True Lies.” Within hours of the news conference, the campaign had put out personal statements from Schwarzenegger and two crew members on “Terminator 2" denying Miller’s claims.
Miller’s suit contends that the “widespread dissemination of these utterly false statements” about a purported criminal record “has caused and will continue to cause Ms. Miller enormous financial and emotional damages and have placed an indelible stain on her previously excellent reputation.”
Hoffman said that Schwarzenegger “has yet to apologize for this despicable act.” He and Allred said that Schwarzenegger and his campaign aides were guilty of maliciously sending out the e-mail.
“Since this happened,” Miller said at the news conference, “I haven’t been able to get a job in the entertainment industry despite my best efforts. It’s an industry that ... I have worked in for approximately 13 years.”
Miller would not take questions from reporters. Nor would Allred comment on Schwarzenegger’s denials of her harassment allegations.