Californians may not be happy with the lack of transparency in the Governator’s office, but none of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political dodges quite compare to his slipperiness in dealing with Anna Richardson, a British TV personality who is suing him for libel.
Richardson first became a thorn in Schwarzenegger’s beefy flank when she was quoted in various news stories—including a landmark Premiere magazine article headlined “Arnold the Barbarian”—saying that the actor had pulled her onto his lap and pinched her nipple after a December 2000 interview for her London-based show Big Screen. When Schwarzenegger’s team attacked her in an October 2003 Los Angeles Times story about the then-candidate’s wandering hands—claiming that she’d hopped on his lap, seductively cupped her breasts and asked, “What do you think of these?”–the 35-year-old vicar’s daughter filed a libel suit against the governor and two of his associates.
Since then, we hear, the governor and his lawyer, Marty Singer, have tried every lowdown trick in the book to weasel out of the lawsuit—even going so far as to refuse to accept the service of legal papers for nearly a year, according to a source close to Richardson. (We’re told Singer only relented after her barrister, Graham Atkins, sent him at least three personal letters demanding that he take the case seriously.)
Schwarzenegger has also tried to distance himself from the suit, saying Sheryl Main (the Columbia Tristar flack quoted in the L.A. Times story, now a member of the governor’s communications team) and Sean Walsh (a former campaign spokesman, now director of the state Office of Planning and Research) were not acting with his knowledge or at his behest when they disseminated the slur. Our source says that, in papers filed in his defense, the governor has even denied any official connection to “Californians for Schwarzenegger,” the nonprofit reelection committee that is paying the trio’s legal fees. If that’s the case, the governor may want to refresh his memory. According to municipal documents, Schwarzenegger owns Main Street Plaza, the Santa Monica building that houses the committee’s headquarters.
In another curious passage in his defense papers, we’re told that Schwarzenegger “denies that he has a history of sexual misconduct… and the Claimant must prove the grounds on which she alleges that any such history is now admitted or well-documented or was at the time of his election campaign a matter of public knowledge.” While the governor may somehow be under the impression that Brits can’t read American publications, which have obsessively covered Arnold’s multiple groping allegations, the governor’s own admission that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and that he’s “behaved badly” towards women have been trumpeted by a dozen UK papers as well.
At least Richardson is having it easier than Rhonda Miller. After the former stuntwoman announced the day before Schwarzenegger’s election that he had grabbed her breasts, Walsh told reporters that Miller had a history of prostitution and drug abuse. Though the allegations were completely untrue, Miller’s suit was overturned in court thanks to America’s defendant-friendly libel laws. (Luckily for Richardson, Brit law puts the burden of proof on the defense in such cases.)
At the end of the day, Schwarzenegger’s maneuvers will probably come to naught. Ever since a judge declared the governor was “not peripheral” to the case, experts have predicted that a settlement is the only way for Schwarzenegger to avoid an inconvenient appearance before a judge in a powdered wig—probably during his 2006 reelection campaign.
Reached for comment, Singer declined to discuss his defense strategy–“I’m not an English attorney, but I’ve been told that you’re not supposed to comment on papers filed”–but denied that he or Schwarzenegger had resisted being served. “We resisted jurisdiction,” Singer said. “That’s why the papers weren’t accepted, per se. When the process server came to the office, it was voluntarily accepted. There was no evasion of service.” The high-priced attorney did confirm that there had been “numerous communications between me and the plaintiff’s lawyer,” but he wouldn’t go into detail. As for a settlement, “we haven’t discussed it,” he said, adding, for good measure, “You’re a tabloid reporter, and these are stupid questions.”
A spokesman for the governor could not be reached by deadline.