Former publisher Judith Regan filed a $100-million defamation lawsuit against Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and other defendants Tuesday, alleging she was asked by company officials to lie to federal investigators in order to protect Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential bid. She also charged that company officials had orchestrated a “smear campaign” to discredit her after her promotion of a controversial memoir by O.J. Simpson.
The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court, comes roughly a year after the Simpson controversy engulfed Regan, an outspoken maverick in the book world. She was fired in December by HarperCollins -- which is owned by News Corp. -- after she was accused of making anti-Semitic comments, a charge she has angrily denied. Although Regan has retreated from the headlines since then, her lawsuit seems certain to reignite her bitter dispute with her former bosses as well as to potentially affect the presidential campaign.
Amid a flurry of allegations, the one most likely to cause a stir is Regan’s charge that News Corp.'s political agenda was to protect the campaign of former New York Mayor Giuliani, especially when it came to the controversies over former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Giuliani had recommended for the post of Homeland Security secretary. Regan said she confided to company executives as early as 2001 that she had been having an affair with Kerik, whose memoir, “The Lost Son,” she published shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
After President Bush nominated Kerik for Homeland Security secretary in 2004, Regan alleges in her suit, one executive “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.”
The company then launched a campaign to discredit her, because it feared that she might disclose information that would be politically hurtful to Giuliani, the suit said. Kerik subsequently withdrew his name from consideration amid a cloud of legal questions over his past behavior and fitness for office; he was indicted last week on federal charges, including tax fraud.
In the lawsuit, Regan, 54, also revisits the charge that got her fired in the first place -- that she had used an anti-Semitic slur in a conversation with a company executive, claiming that a “Jewish cabal” had been lining up against her within the corporation.
“This lawsuit repeats what we had said earlier, that Judith was fired without cause, on trumped-up grounds,” said Los Angeles attorney Bert Fields, who continues to represent Regan even though the litigation was filed by a separate New York law firm. The notion that Regan had made any kind of anti-Semitic comment “is totally false. And we have a witness to show that this was a totally false statement.”
Besides News Corp., the lawsuit names HarperCollins, which published Regan’s former imprint, ReganBooks, and Jane Friedman, the publisher’s president and chief executive.
“Her claims are preposterous,” News Corp. spokeswoman Teri Everett said.
Representatives for HarperCollins said the company had not seen the lawsuit as of Tuesday night and would not comment on it.
Regan did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, nor did the Giuliani campaign.
In her lawsuit, Regan revisits the O.J. Simpson debacle, contending that Murdoch, the head of News Corp., and Friedman had both signed off enthusiastically on the project, long before it sparked a public backlash.
Regan said that Murdoch had suggested paying $1 million for the project -- but not directly to Simpson -- before public anger caused News Corp. to scuttle both the planned book and a TV special featuring an interview that Regan had conducted with Simpson.
The former publisher, who first came to work at News Corp. in 1994, had promoted bestsellers by radio personalities Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern while at Simon & Schuster.
Regan, who had moved her operations from New York to offices in Century City shortly before she was fired, has reportedly been traveling abroad for much of this year.
With Regan’s new lawsuit, Fields said, “all of these issues she has been raising are now going to be addressed.”