One of the discomforts for a celebrity bringing a defamation case against a tabloid is being subjected to the discovery process. After all, one of the defenses against libel is that there were no false statements made.
In October, Tom Cruise filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Bauer Media Group, publisher of Life & Style magazine, over a story that suggested the actor had abandoned daughter Suri. The litigation had the potential of becoming nasty in the pretrial phase; now, it appears, it has.
On Thursday, the parties outlined what each is seeking in discovery -- and it's an eyebrow-raising list of demands.
Here are some of the things that Bauer Media, represented by attorney Alonzo Wickers, is seeking:
- The extent to which Cruise was in contact with Suri following his separation and divorce from Katie Holmes.
- The expectations for Cruise's contact and visitation schedule with Suri and the terms of the divorce agreement.
- The role that Cruise's membership in the Church of Scientology played in his decisions regarding his visitation and communication with Suri.
- Suri's mental and emotional state following the separation and divorce.
- Cruise's claim and litigation history.
On that last point, at the time of the filing, Cruise lawyer Bert Fields said: "Tom doesn't go around suing people. He's not a litigious guy. But when these sleaze peddlers try to make money with disgusting lies about his relationship with his child, you bet he's going to sue."
Bauer also is seeking to depose Aaron Moss, another of Cruise's lawyers, which the attorney is resisting.
Not to be outdone, Cruise has his own discovery demands. Some of the things the plaintiff is seeking:
- The identity of the magazine's sources and communications with those sources.
- Bauer's policies and practices with respect to obtaining information, paying for sources, verifying the credibility of sources with whom the writers and editors haven't spoken.
- Bauer's practice of publishing stories about Cruise.
- Bauer's history of bigotry and hatred toward minority religious groups and their members.
According to a document filed Thursday, Bauer will attempt to exert journalistic shield privileges to protect the identity of its sources.
As for the reference to "bigotry," it could be a reference to Scientology. It also could pertain to a recent report that the German publisher holds assets appealing to neo-Nazis.
Often, this type of celebrity defamation litigation settles. As one example, Holmes last year settled a $50 million lawsuit against American Media over insinuations that she was a drug addict. The litigation went away after the publisher of Star magazine apologized and made a donation to charity.
If the Cruise-Bauer war doesn't likewise result in a settlement, things could get ugly.
A deadline for nonexpert discovery has been set for Oct. 13. Dispositive motions are due no later than Feb. 28, 2014. If it does get to trial, it's estimated that it would last five days.