A judge has ruled that Howard K. Stern, attorney of the late Anna Nicole Smith, can go before a jury with his suit against the author of a book about Smith.
The suit, filed by Stern shortly after the Sept., 2007, publication of journalist and TV personality Rita Cosby’s book “Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind Anna Nicole Smith’s Death,” alleges that the book contains libelous material about Stern.
Among the claims, Cosby’s book says that Stern hired Smith out for sexual services, and that Stern had engaged in sex with another man, specifically Larry Birkhead, the father of Smith’s daughter Dannielynn
But Judge Denny Chin said that the “gay” allegation in the book did not warrant consideration as being defamatory.
Distinguishing between the claim regarding Stern’s sexual orientation from other claims about his sexual adventures, judge Chin stated, “I respectfully disagree that the existence of this continued prejudice leads to the conclusion that there is a widespread view of gays and lesbians as contemptible and disgraceful.”
Chin noted that New York courts have held there are four categories of statements that constitute defamation, including accusations of serious crime or statements that tend to injure another in his trade or profession. Gay conduct is no longer a crime, he said, and gays and lesbians are no longer viewed as shameful or odious.
However, Chin said a jury could still find the statement is libelous, and allowed claims regarding 11 of 19 allegedly libelous statements made in the book. He further noted that only Cosby could be liable, and not the publisher, Hachette, because it had no reason to doubt claims made in the book.
Smith died at age 39 in 2007, reportedly from an overdose.