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Gary Condit's lawyer bails out on a defamation lawsuit

WASHINGTON—Attorney Mark E. Goidell once represented rapper Sean Combs, known at that time as "Puffy."

He defended a New York man convicted of double murder. He defended a woman who falsely accused a co-worker of sexually abusing retarded patients.

Former Rep. Gary Condit, though, has proved to be one client too much.

Goidell wants a federal judge to let him out of a defamation case he brought on the California Democrat's behalf. Facing potential sanctions for filing an allegedly frivolous lawsuit against author Dominick Dunne, Goidell agreed this week that the case never should have been brought.

"The defamation claim in this action is not warranted by existing law, or by a non-frivolous argument for new law," Goidell said in a Jan. 15 affidavit.

But while Goidell is pushing the eject button, Condit is vowing to fight on.

Condit is already a veteran of multiple libel lawsuits—two of them still pending. His litigious persistence could prove costly, even as it illustrates the rules governing defamation and courtroom decorum.

"It's been my observation that plaintiffs in defamation cases can become so emotionally invested that it is very, very difficult for them to disengage," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "They will pursue libel suits beyond what any normal person would do."

Condit sued Dunne in federal court for the second time in November. He claimed that the author and television raconteur had falsely linked him to the 2001 disappearance of one-time intern Chandra Levy.

Levy was last seen alive on April 30, 2001. Her skeletal remains were found a year later in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Her murder is still unsolved, and police have never identified a suspect.

Three decades her senior, Condit eventually told investigators that he'd had a sexual relationship with Levy, according to undisputed published accounts. Police never called him a suspect, but Condit's handling of the case cost him his House seat in 2002.

"I think he knows more about what did happen than he has ever said," Dunne said in a Nov. 16, 2005, appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Dunne declined to elaborate, saying that he and Condit had settled an earlier lawsuit.

In Condit's second lawsuit, filed in November 2006 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Goidell argued that Dunne had misled "millions of members of the public" into thinking ill of the 13-year House veteran.

"Condit suffered public hatred, contempt and ridicule," Goidell said.

Dunne's attorney, Paul LiCalsi, retorted at the time that the case was "dead on arrival."

LiCalsi declined to comment Wednesday, and Goidell couldn't be reached. But Goidell's affidavit filed with U.S. District Judge Peter Leisure filled in the blanks.

LiCalsi, a partner with the New York firm Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, had advised Goidell that he was prepared to seek courtroom sanctions against him. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit fines if lawyers file unfounded lawsuits.

The sanctions can sting. Several years ago, for instance, a California judge fined a lawyer $500,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit against the toy-making company Mattel. The lawsuit had been filed on behalf of a Barbie competitor.

LiCalsi argued that Condit's latest lawsuit merely echoed a claim that Judge Leisure had rejected during the first lawsuit. In both cases, Condit was challenging Dunne's expressed opinion.

"The First Amendment protects (Dunne's) opinion . . . regardless of its accuracy, because it is not based upon implied undisclosed information or expressed false assertions of fact," Leisure noted in the earlier case.

A solo practitioner based on Long Island, N.Y., Goidell told Leisure that he reconsidered the case after LiCalsi threatened sanctions. Goidell further said that Condit is sticking to his guns.

"He notified me that he does not wish to voluntarily discontinue the action, and that he will be retaining new counsel," Goidell said.

Condit has brought a second defamation lawsuit against a small Arizona newspaper, but it's moving slowly.

A Jan. 24 hearing could let Goidell off the hook, although, in theory, Leisure could still sanction him if Condit persists in bringing the case with a new lawyer.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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