Condit on the hook for $42,680 for lawsuit costs

WASHINGTON -- Gary Condit's legal and financial travails just keep worsening. An Arizona judge has ordered the former Ceres congressman to pay $42,680.42 for filing a frivolous libel lawsuit.

Condit's lawsuit against the tiny Sonoran News for a story referring to murder victim Chandra Levy amounted to harassment, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kristin Hoffman ruled this week.

Condit's actions showed "he was aware the lawsuit should never have been brought," Hoffman added.

"Gary Condit is a serial plaintiff who has filed libel actions across the country to try to intimidate the news media and silence press coverage of him," Sonoran News attorney Daniel Barr said Wednesday. "(The judge's) decision shows that Condit has filed at least one libel lawsuit too many."

The July 2005 Sonoran News story in question briefly recounted the 2001 disappearance of Levy, a onetime Modesto resident who interned at the federal Bureau of Prisons. She was last seen in public April 30, 2001. A year later, her remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Her death is unsolved.

Condit does not deny multiple news accounts that he told law enforcement investigators he was having an affair with Levy. Condit's reported admission came in his third police interview, about two months after Levy disappeared.

Condit's widely criticized handling of the Levy case led to his defeat in the March 2002 Democratic primary. The primary winner, former Condit aide Dennis Cardoza, won the general election and now represents the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Condit left Washington and moved with his wife, Carolyn, to the Phoenix area. His brother Darrell, who has served time in prison, also has lived in the area, and, in July 2005, he drew the scornful attention of the Sonoran News. The article further characterized Gary Condit as "lying to investigators about his affair" with Levy.

Condit disputed the characterization and claimed it ruined his reputation. He has filed numerous similar lawsuits for the past five years, and all but one have been dropped or settled.

Hoffman dismissed Condit's lawsuit in July, prompting Barr to seek repayment of his attorney fees. In the ruling dated Sept. 24 but obtained Wednesday, Hoffman noted that Condit would not answer key questions.

"(Condit) did not deny that he lied to authorities with regard to his relationship with Chandra Levy," Hoffman wrote.

Instead, Condit resisted as "not relevant" questions about what he told law enforcement authorities. This unwillingness to talk proved fatal to his case and convinced the judge that Condit was not serious about pursuing the lawsuit.

"Proving the falsity of the statement by clear and convincing evidence was an essential element of his cause of action," Hoffman wrote.

Hoffman's ruling means Condit must reimburse the newspaper's editor and publisher. Lacking libel insurance, they have had to pay their attorneys themselves.

The judgment comes as Condit's former partners at Baskin-Robbins are about to take him to court for allegedly breaking a franchise agreement with the ice cream company.

Condit is pursuing another defamation lawsuit against author Dominick Dunne. His first lawyer dropped out after concluding the lawsuit had no merit, but Condit hired another lawyer.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.