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The CBS television network has secured dismissal of a defamation complaint brought against it by a person who circulated and sold fabricated documents regarding the activities of members of the Kennedy family. The lawsuit, Cusack v. 60 Minutes, 600060/98, which was dismissed Tuesday by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara R. Kapnick, stemmed from a Nov. 23, 1997 broadcast of “60 Minutes.” CBS news reported that Lawrence X. Cusack III possessed phony documents purporting to detail unsavory activities on the part of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, their father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and other figures. Cusack granted access to the documents to the author, Seymour Hersh, and also sold them to investors. The documents, CBS suggested, may have been forged by Cusack. Cusack sued the network in 1998 saying he was defamed by the allegations. The investors also sued for several million dollars, claiming that the CBS report caused the value of the documents to decline. In April 1999, Cusack was convicted in federal court on charges of fraud related to his circulation and sale of the documents. Federal judge Denise Cote of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced him to more than 9 years in jail for his role in the hoax, and ordered him to make restitution in the amount of $7 million to the investors. In the state court case, Justice Kapnick concluded that Lawrence Cusack’s conviction precluded him from bringing claims based on defamation. After the criminal conviction, she said, Cusack could no longer make the argument that the papers were authentic. The investors, since they were not defendants in the criminal case, were not affected by collateral estoppel. But they could not make out a case that CBS acted in a “grossly irresponsible” manner in reporting a matter of public interest. Kapnick observed that Judge Cote specifically found “overwhelming and conclusive evidence” that Cusack had forged the documents. Even though not every portion of the Cusack papers was admitted into evidence at the criminal trial, Cote’s finding destroys the essential argument of the plaintiffs in the state case, that the papers are authentic. PUBLIC CONCERN Kapnick also ruled that the “60 Minutes” program discussed matters of public concern. She dismissed the case because there was no arguable claim that CBS had reported and broadcast the story in a “grossly irresponsible” fashion. She noted that CBS first looked into the Cusack papers because its producers were skeptical of a report doubting the papers’ credibility that appeared on the ABC network. Furthermore, CBS retained handwriting experts who concluded that the papers were fake. “In short, plaintiffs have failed to show that the CBS defendants … acted irresponsibly, let alone in a grossly irresponsible manner,” Kapnick wrote. Carl E. Person of Manhattan was counsel to the plaintiffs. Anthony Bongiorno, associate general counsel to CBS Inc., argued for the network. Claims were also dismissed against two other defendants. Seymour Hersh, who dropped from his book “The Dark Side of Camelot” a chapter that relied heavily on the contents of the Cusack papers, was represented by Michael Nussbaum of Ropes & Gray in Washington, D.C. Robert L. White, who was sued for his retraction of his earlier authentication of a portion of the Cusack papers, was represented by Peter P. Sweeney of Schwimmer & Sweeney in Manhattan.

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