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Judge orders Condit to pay $42,000 in libel case

WASHINGTON – Gary Condit’s legal and financial travails keep worsening, as an Arizona judge has ordered the former 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 one-time 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 murder remains unsolved.

Condit does not deny multiple news accounts that he told law enforcement investigators that he was having an affair with the much-younger woman. Condit’s reported concession came in his third police interview, about two months after Levy’s disappearance.

Condit’s widely criticized handling of the Levy case caused his defeat in the March 2002 Democratic primary. The primary winner, former Condit aide Dennis Cardoza, went on to win 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 ex-con brother Darrell has also lived in the area, and in July 2005 Darrell drew the scornful attention of the Sonoran News. The article further characterized former congressman 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 over for the past five years, all but one of which have now been dropped or settled.

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

“(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.

“He failed to provide information that would establish the truth or falsity of the statement at issue in this litigation,” Hoffman wrote. “Proving the falsity of the statement by clear and convincing evidence was an essential element of his cause of action.”

Hoffman’s ruling means Condit must now reimburse the newspaper’s editor and publisher. Lacking libel insurance, they have had to pay for their attorney’s work out of their own pockets.

The judgment comes, moreover, as Condit’s former partners at Baskin-Robbins are about to take him to trial for allegedly breaking a franchise agreement with the giant ice cream company. Condit recently had to change lawyers in the case, just weeks before the Oct. 16 trial is scheduled to start.

In one sign suggesting the state of the Condit family’s legal affairs, his son Chad recently filed a handwritten document with the judge handling the ice cream case.

Separately, Condit is pursuing another defamation lawsuit against author Dominick Dunne. His initial lawyer in that case dropped out after concluding the suit had no merit, but Condit was able to find another lawyer to step in.

“One counsel’s opinion as to the merits of a claim may reasonably differ from another,” Condit’s current attorney Sandra Rampersaud declared earlier this year.