Where do scandals go when they die? They travel upwards, of course … to a U.S. Court of Appeals. At least if they’re scandals involving the saga of President Bill Clinton’s sexcapades.
U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski faced an appeal in a defamation suit filed by former lounge-singer Gennifer Flowers against Hillary Rodham Clinton, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. With that cast of characters (including Judge K), you know it’s going to be an interesting opinion.
This is an opinion to be admired as much for its lucidity as its colorful take on the events. Here’s a taste from the opening paragraphs (some paragraph breaks inserted):
Long after the public spotlight has moved on in search of fresh intrigue, the lawyers remain. And so we find ourselves adjudicating a decade-old dispute between Gennifer Flowers and what she affectionately refers to as the “Clinton smear machine”: James Carville, George Stephanopoulos and Hillary Clinton. Flowers charges that said machine destroyed her reputation by painting her as a fraud and a liar after she dis-closed her affair with Bill Clinton. We decide whether Flowers’s claims are timely and, if so, whether they survive a motion to dismiss.
Background and Proceedings Below
In the heat of the 1992 presidential primary campaign, the Star—that ubiquitous supermarket source for celebrity scandal—ran a story claiming that Bill Clinton had carried on an affair with an Arkansas woman named Gennifer Flowers. Clinton and Flowers both denied it at first, but a few days later Flowers (doubtless realizing that honesty is the best policy after all) sold her story to the Star.
Clinton continued vigorously denying the allegations and appeared on 60 Minutes with his wife to say they weren’t true. The following day, Flowers responded by holding a press conference where she played recordings of intimate phone calls from Clinton that she’d secretly taped. Later news reports suggested that the tapes may have been selectively edited.
According to Flowers, Hillary Clinton and her two “henchmen,” George Stephanopoulos and James Carville, conspired to protect Bill Clinton’s presidential candidacy from Flowers’s damaging revelations. Flowers claims that during the 1992 campaign and in later political memoirs and interviews, Carville and Stephanopoulos defamed her and painted her in a false light by claiming that she had lied in her story to the Star and “doctored” the tape-recorded phone calls.
Hillary Clinton, the alleged mastermind of the conspiracy, not only orchestrated the defamatory exploits, but also exposed private information about Flowers and organized break-ins of her residence. Flowers claims that, as a result of all this schemery, her reputation has wilted and her blossoming career as a Las Vegas lounge singer has been nipped in the bud.
It’s like the beginning of an intriguing political spy novel you want to keep reading. In the not-as-exciting climax, the Ninth Circuit panel felt compelled under the law to reverse the district court, which had dismissed all of Flowers’ claims.
Meanwhile, Kozinski gave us another Syufy-type mystery (see “Coming Soon to a Footnote Near You!”) by burying an amusing reference in one of the citations. I won’t spoil the mystery. See if you can find it.
— Flowers v. Carville, 310 F.3d 1118, 1122 (9th Cir. 2002) (Kozinski, J.). Thanks to Elise Hendrick .