Cruise risks turn­ing life into open book

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By John Horn

LOS ANGELES — It can be true in medicine and Tom Cruise may find it’s true in law: Some­times, the cure is worse than the dis­ease.

The Top Gun and Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble star filed a US$50-mil­lion defama­tion law­suit Wed­nes­day against the pub­lish­ers of Life & Style Weekly and In Touch mag­a­zines for twice al­leg­ing the ac­tor had “aban­doned” his daugh­ter Suri.

But as peo­ple fa­mil­iar with lit­i­ga­tion know, Cruise runs the risk of turn­ing his pri­vate life into a very open book. To prove that the tabloid’s al­le­ga­tions were false and defam­a­tory, Cruise may have to an­swer any num­ber of ques­tions, un­der oath, about him­self and his par­ent­ing. He might even be asked about his past re­la­tion­ship with ex-wife Ni­cole Kid­man and the chil­dren from that mar­riage, as well as his reli­gious be­liefs, ac­cord­ing to li­bel and defama­tion lawyers not in­volved in the case.

“Plain­tiffs who ini­ti­ate ac­tions like this have to go in with their eyes wide open be­cause it may not be a very pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Charles L. Bab­cock, a Hous­ton at­tor­ney who spe­cial­izes in de­fend­ing me­dia com­pa­nies in First Amend­ment cases.

Cruise ear­lier this year nar­rowly avoided see­ing a court case open a win­dow into his mar­riage. When Katie Holmes filed for di­vorce in June, their split had the po­ten­tial to ex­pose the cou­ple’s fi­nances, their pre-nup­tial agree­ment and their cus­tody ar­range­ments, among other things. But the cou­ple set­tled the split pri­vately, with no pa­per trail. A source with knowl­edge of the case said at the time that the set­tle­ment was made so that none of the terms would be con­tained in pub­licly avail­able doc­u­ments, a prac­tice that is fairly com­mon in such cases.

As part of their de­fence in the new defama­tion case, lawyers for the mag­a­zine can (and doubtlessly will) seek to depose Cruise, and in ad­di­tion to his live ques­tion­ing un­der penalty of per­jury could also ask to depose ex-wife Holmes, who is six-year-old Suri’s mother. What’s more, Cruise and Holmes could be asked to pro­duce doc­u­ments and an­swer writ­ten ques­tions, called in­ter­roga­to­ries, about Cruise’s re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter and how much time they spent to­gether, the lawyers said.

“What a suit of this type opens up is the en­tirety of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cruise and Suri,” said Don­ald Zachary, a vet­eran Los Angeles me­dia lawyer. “They can go into ev­ery visit he’s ever had with her.”

But Cruise could also seek in­for­ma­tion from the mag­a­zines to prove they know­ingly pub­lished false in­for­ma­tion about him and his daugh­ter.

The mag­a­zine, which has de­clined to com­ment on the lit­i­ga­tion, could also file a mo­tion against Cruise, claim­ing that his law­suit seeks to muz­zle free speech. Known as an anti-SLAAP mo­tion, the tac­tic has been used against peo­ple such as Bar­bra Streisand, who un­suc­cess­fully sued the Cal­i­for­nia Coastal Records Project for in­vad­ing her pri­vacy by pub­lish­ing an aerial photo of her Mal­ibu home. Plain­tiffs who lose anti-SLAAP mo­tions can be forced to pay the de­fen­dants’ le­gal ex­penses.

In fil­ing his suit, Cruise lawyer Bert Fields is­sued a state­ment say­ing, “Tom is a car­ing fa­ther who dearly loves Suri. To say he has ‘aban­doned’ her is a vi­cious lie. To say it in lurid head­lines with a tear­ful pic­ture of Suri is rep­re­hen­si­ble.”

To prove that the ar­ti­cles or head­lines were in fact defam­a­tory, or to show that the pub­li­ca­tions are li­able for what’s known as “false light in­va­sion of pri­vacy,” Fields must show that they not only were false but also caused harm to Cruise’s pro­fes­sion or his rep­u­ta­tion.

And that could cre­ate an­other le­gal thicket for Cruise, the lawyers said. “There’s a real ques­tion about whether say­ing he has aban­doned his child re­ally hurts his rep­u­ta­tion,” Zachary said. “If the ques­tion be­comes, ‘Does this hurt his rep­u­ta­tion?’ that could open him up to very em­bar­rass­ing ques­tions about what his rep­u­ta­tion re­ally is.” Those queries could in­clude a look into his con­tro­ver­sial mem­ber­ship in the Church of Scien­tol­ogy.

Bab­cock added that if Cruise were to ar­gue that the sto­ries and head­lines caused him men­tal an­guish, the ac­tor’s med­i­cal records could be­come part of the case, and the de­fence lawyers could even or­der their own med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of Cruise.

Tom Cruise

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