A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Dustin Hice must pay Don Lemon $77,000 in attorneys fees. In an 18-page-long ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Locke says he based his decision on the fact that Hice was involved in egregious conduct in violation of court rules.
Recently filed court documents in the federal civil lawsuit against CNN anchor Don Lemon reveal more evidence that calls the credibility of the plaintiff's claim into question, adding to existing complications. Additionally, two witnesses that Hice initially listed will now testify for the defense.
Hice claims that in July 2018, after noticing Lemon at Murf's Backstreet Tavern in the Hamptons town of Sag Harbor on New York's Long Island, he tried to buy the journalist a lemon drop drink. But, according to Hice's lawsuit, the anchor turned down the glass and went about his night. A short time later, Hice claims Lemon approached him, rubbed his genitals, and put his fingers on Hice's mustache while asking, "Do you like pussy or dick?"
Lemon has categorically denied the allegations.
According to Hice's lawsuit, he "fled" the bar immediately, was humiliated, and developed mental health problems from the trauma he says he suffered from the incident. As a result, Hice claims that he could not socialize, became withdrawn, and couldn't continue with his summer bartending job in Sag Harbor.
Since the suit was filed, Hice’s case has come under scrutiny. As The Advocate reported, William Erdmann alleged Hice purported an almost identical assault on him years prior. Hice has also destroyed evidence in the case and purposefully withheld information.
Now, information in recent filings highlight the extent to which Hice went to conceal witnesses and evidence.
The latest submissions include portions of a deposition in which a witness claims that, contrary to his claims of emotional distress, Hice seemed fine. The witness said Hice was social and not in any way troubled on either the night of – or any time after – the alleged incident, an incident the witness said she never saw happen. Identified as Isabel Peters, the witness was a friend of Hice's and interacted with Hice for much of the summer of 2018. Originally a witness for Hice under the alias “Jane Roe,” Peters provided Lemon's attorney with screenshots of text messages, photographs, and videos, many of which Hice had deleted, according to court records reviewed by The Advocate.
In a memorandum to the court, Lemon's attorney said Hice withheld Peters' identity because he knew she wouldn't support his allegations.
"The concealment was for the purposes of hiding negative evidence," Polisi wrote, "As discussed, at her ultimate deposition, Peters gave testimony that directly undercut [Hice's] claims regarding the supposed assault; revealed [Hice's] own persistent, harassing behavior toward Mr. Lemon on the night of the incident; shed light on [Hice's] excursions to [...] Lemon's residential property for the purpose of creating Instagram posts with lemons; and even revealed [Hice's] rampant cocaine use throughout the summer of 2018."
In a sworn deposition, Peters' retelling of the night in question and subsequent weeks differs significantly from Hice's allegations in his lawsuit. Peters said Hice and a friend were very drunk the night of the alleged incident and that they were heckling Lemon.
According to her deposition, Hice, his friend George Gounelas, and Peters were at Murf's on July 15, 2018, when Hice spotted Lemon and became excited to see the famous television personality.
"Both the men, George and Dustin, were definitely out of control yelling and screaming and stuff, and the bar was pretty packed," Peters said in her deposition.
They were "yelling across the bar to order lemon drop shots, yelling out fake news, really excited that there was a celebrity there," she continued.
Peters testified that she and Gounelas were talking when Hice claimed Lemon attacked him, and as a result, Gounelas couldn't have witnessed the alleged interaction — Gounelas previously claimed he witnessed the incident. In text messages reviewed by The Advocate, Peters said to a friend, "[Lemon] didn't even touch Dustin," in response to the news that Hice was suing Lemon for assault and battery.
Peters said Hice didn't flee from the bar. Instead, she said that when Lemon left Murf's, Hice and Gounelas followed the journalist out of the bar and into another establishment where Lemon used the restroom. After previously failing to get Lemon to drink, and during a period after Hice claims Lemon had allegedly rubbed his fingers in his face, Hice continued trying to get the CNN Tonight with Don Lemon host to drink with him, court records allege.
"Dustin went up to the service bar and asked the bartender for Lemon Drop shots because, I guess, they saw [Lemon] go into the bathroom...and then they waited for him to come out to ask him to take more shots with them."
Peters said Lemon just left without accepting any drinks.
Later, she said, "both George and Dustin just joked and laughed about their whole night with Don, basically told everyone about it."
These revelations are not the first to indicate that Hice is making his claim against Lemon up. As The Advocate reported last month, another witness came forward and claimed that Hice did the exact thing to him in high school that he is now accusing Lemon of doing.
The judge found that in addition to destroying text, photo, and social media evidence, Hice offered to pay Gounelas, the only witness he claimed saw the alleged incident, for his testimony. Gounelas eventually recanted his testimony in a deposition he sat for under oath. He admitted that he didn't know if he had even seen the incident during the deposition.
"You don't know if you s[aw] it in your imagination, or actually saw it at some point," Gounelas said.
In an Instagram chat conversation between Hice (under the handle djdusty7) and Gounelas, reviewed by The Advocate, the men discussed their surprise that the veteran journalist could figure out Peters' identity.
"How in the hell did he even know to ask her?" Hice said to Gounelas, "I mean, aside from the fact he's an investigative journalist[.] But I call 'FAKE NEWS.'"
Peters did not respond to a request for comment. The Advocate also contacted Brian Doyle, the attorney who represented Peters in her deposition, who would not comment on the case.
In a motion for sanctions against Hice – an action the judge subsequently granted – Polisi submitted evidence to the court that Hice was trying to bribe Gounelas to testify favorably for his case. In another Instagram post reviewed by The Advocate, Hice called Gounelas his "star witness" and said, "you know I'll take care of ya."
Later in the conversation, Hice wrote, "Figured if anything.… I can get Fox [News] to provide an attorney and they can compensate me for the story ...I dunno."
A judge had previously ruled that Hice is responsible for sanctions in paying attorneys' fees to Lemon. Additionally, the judge will instruct the jury that they may use Hice's bad faith lack of cooperation during the discovery process against him in their deliberations.
Polisi previously told The Advocate, "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. 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."
Polisi had asked the court for $106,000 in attorneys fees and the judge agreed with the merits but cut the rate of the attorneys on her team, which legal experts say is a normal practice.
The Advocate reached out to Lemon’s attorney for her reaction to the ruling, but did not hear back before publication time.
The Advocate has also reached out repeatedly to Hice's attorney, Robert Barnes, for comment on developments in this case, but Barnes' office did not respond to several phone messages and emails.