Lambda vs. Howard K. Stern
BY Gabriel G. Arana
April 10 2009 12:00 AM ET
Anna Nicole Show
costar Howard K. Stern is suing an author in Manhattan
district court for claiming in a tell-all book that Stern is
gay. Stern is demanding $60 million in damages, but if the
efforts of legal activists are successful, he may not get a
Lambda Legal, the
country's largest legal organization dedicated to gay
rights, recently filed a "friend of the court" brief
in the case, arguing that it is not defamatory under New York
law to falsely identify someone as gay. Attorneys for the
organization say gay defamation suits "impermissibly
stigmatize lesbians and gay men" and are based on
"outdated prejudices." Judge Denny Chin is set to
decide soon whether the case should proceed to trial.
inappropriate -- especially in 2009 -- for [a gay defamation]
claim to have weight," said Thomas Ude, a senior staff
attorney with Lambda Legal. "There's nothing shameful
about being identified as gay."
Lawyers for the
book's author, Rita Cosby, have made a similar
"Stern is relying
on this court to affirm a discriminatory, humiliating, and
outdated notion about the community's response to
homosexuality," Cosby's lawyers said in a motion
seeking to dismiss the charges.
Stern, of course,
played lawyer -- and later rumored lover -- to former
supermodel Smith, who died in 2007 of an accidental drug
overdose. In the months leading up to her death, Smith
maintained that Stern was the father of her infant daughter,
DNA testing later
proved that Stern was not Dannielynn's dad.
For Stern to win the
defamation suit, he must show that the false statement damaged
his reputation. But what is considered a stain on one's
reputation changes over time. In the past, courts have
recognized defamation claims based on false accusations of
being black, being a communist, being Roman Catholic, etc.