U.S. judge refuses to dismiss defamation suit against Liddy

But he tells Wells' lawyers `a trial is not a game'

January 24, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal judge refused to dismiss a $5.1 million lawsuit against Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy yesterday, saying a jury should decide whether Liddy's revisionist theory of the infamous 1972 burglary defamed a former Democratic National Committee secretary.

Defense lawyers argued that Ida "Maxie" Wells, the Louisiana woman suing Liddy, had failed to prove as false Liddy's suggestion that the burglars in the break-in at DNC headquarters were looking for photos of call girls kept in her desk to protect the reputation of the fiancee of then-White House counsel John W. Dean III.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said that question should go to the jury. But Motz made clear that he was not happy with the sometimes disjointed case Wells' lawyers presented.

Noting that the case held significant historical importance, Motz said: "I deserve better than I've got."

"A trial is not a game," Motz sternly told David M. Dorsen and Larry S. Greenberg, the lawyers representing Wells. "A trial is looking for the truth."

In ruling against Liddy's request for a directed verdict, Motz suggested he would have ruled differently if Liddy had discussed only generally the so-called "prostitution theory" behind Watergate during his 1996 speeches at James Madison University and on board a Mediterranean cruise.

Motz said Liddy has First Amendment free-speech rights to discuss alternative theories on Watergate, no matter how sordid. But Motz said a jury should decide whether Liddy crossed the line in saying Wells kept photos of call girls in her desk - a statement attributed to a disbarred lawyer who has a history of mental problems.

In testimony last week, Wells denied keeping photos in her desk and rejected the theory of a link between the DNC and a call-girl ring operated out of the Columbia Plaza Apartments next to the Watergate complex.

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