As the federal civil trial involving CNN anchor Don Lemon approaches, new revelations in court documents cast doubt on the veracity of the claims against the CNN Tonight With Don Lemonhost. Nearly three years since the lawsuit began, the federal civil trial for Lemon will start with jury selection on June 6 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
But ongoing court filings reveal several complications that call the accuser's case into question.
Dustin Hice claims in his lawsuit that during the summer of 2018, after leaving his bartending job, he recognized the well-known journalist at a bar in the Hamptons and offered to buy him a drink. According to the lawsuit, Lemon declined the offer, and both went their separate ways. Later in the night, Hice says, Lemon approached him and put his hands down his pants, fondled himself, and then put his fingers under Hice's nose, asking Hice whether he liked "pussy or dick."
Hice claims that the interaction left him humiliated, saddled with mental health problems, and unable to return to his summer job as a bartender on Long Island. Hice, 41, who lives in Florida, says in his lawsuit that before the alleged incident, he would summer in New York and worked at a Hamptons bar.
However, recent court filings raise questions about whether Hice's allegations are true. Last week a judge granted Lemon's motion to add William Erdmann to the witness list for the defense. Erdmann's testimony is meant to call into question whether Hice's claims are true or if he made the entire incident up.
According to a sworn statement filed with the court, Erdmann, a 39-year-old gay man, claims that while he and Hice were in high school at Lake Worth Christian School in Boynton Beach, Fla., Hice and his friends bullied Erdmann because they suspected he was gay. One day, Erdmann says, Hice did to Erdmann the very thing that Hice claims Lemon did to him.
On November 13 of last year, Erdmann saw the former bartender telling the story of what he claimed happened with Lemon in a Twitter video clip from The Megyn Kelly Show. Erdmann quoted the tweet and wrote, "Wouldn't you know it, I went to High School with Dustin Hice. In high school, he and his friends did the VERY THING he is accusing Don Lemon of doing to me! He and his friends bullied me so badly for being gay that I had to switch high schools my Junior year. His claims are fake."
In his sworn declaration, Erdmann details an incident that sounds nearly identical to what Hice is accusing Lemon of doing to him.
"On one occasion, while Mr. Hice was sitting across from me in math class, Mr. Hice put his hands down the front of his pants and made a dramatic show of moving his hand around vigorously, giving the impression that he was making contact with his genitals," Erdmann's sworn declaration states. "After removing his hand from his pants, he moved closer to my desk and said 'smell my finger' while simultaneously shoving his finger under my nose, causing his friends to laugh at me."
According to his statement, the bullying resulted in Erdmann changing schools his junior year. Reached byThe Advocate, Erdmann said he had no comment for this story.
As The Advocate previously reported, Hice has been critical of CNN in some now-deleted social media posts. A tweet by Hice from as recently as August of last year remains up. "CNN supports and enables sexual predators," Hice's tweet reads.
Some media outlets have reported that Lemon is facing a sexual assault allegation, which he is not. The lawsuit accuses Lemon of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Lemon, 55, categorically denies Hice's claims, and CNN stands firmly by the star anchor. "The plaintiff in this lawsuit has previously displayed a pattern of contempt for CNN on his social media accounts," a CNN spokesperson told Deadlinewhen the suit was filed. "This claim follows his unsuccessful threats and demands for an exorbitant amount of money from Don Lemon."
Asked to comment on the new developments, CNN Worldwide's head of strategic communications, Matt Dornic, directedThe Advocate to Lemon's attorney.
The Erdmann revelation is the latest in a number of challenges Hice's lawsuit faces. A judge ruled last week that Erdmann would be allowed to testify on behalf of the defense. Also, a judge ruled earlier in favor of sanctions against Hice for misbehavior during the discovery process. The judge found that Hice destroyed evidence and didn't abide by the discovery rules.
The judge recently condemned Hice in a 23-page opinion, writing that Hice's actions were "egregious" and noting that "Hice's conduct, when taken in total, depicts an attempt to deceive this Court by attacking the integrity of the litigation process, and must be treated accordingly."
The ruling states that the jury will be given an adverse inference instruction before deliberating. According to legal experts consulted by The Advocate, such an instruction is rare and provides jurors with the opportunity to use Hice's actions during discovery against him as they decide the case.
Ryan Locke, a Georgia trial attorney, tells The Advocate Hice's case is in serious trouble. Locke says that Hice's entire case rests on the jury believing him and that the adverse jury instruction and evidence of bias will likely hurt his case.
"It's not uncommon to have discovery disputes, even disputes that result in attorney's fees," Locke says, "but adverse jury instructions are fairly rare and reserved for egregious cases. A judge would grant that request where the bad behavior in discovery is willful and denies [Lemon] access to facts and evidence that they're entitled to through the civil discovery process.
"His credibility will be challenged by seemingly pretty convincing evidence that he lied about Lemon because he hates liberals and gays, but it all depends on how the witnesses testify and if they come across as telling the truth."
In addition to the adverse inference jury instruction, the judge will order Hice to pay Lemon up to $106.490.38 -- the amount of attorneys' fees Lemon says he incurred as a result of Hice's bad faith actions.
Lemon's attorney, Caroline J. Polisi, is confident her client will prevail at trial.
"One need only glance at the publicly available filings in this case to see that each and every one of Mr. Hice's allegations have been dismantled," Polisi says in a statement to The Advocate. "Unlike Mr. Hice, Mr. Lemon has litigated this case in the courtroom, not the press, and he looks forward to a trial so that he can finally put these patently frivolous and invented allegations behind him."
The Advocate repeatedly reached out to Hice's attorney, Robert Barnes, for comment but did not hear back by the time of publishing. The Advocate will update this story if we receive a response.