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Judith Regan’s bizarre complaint against News Corp.

I can’t literally say that I’ve never seen a complaint like the one Judith Regan’s lawyers filed on her behalf two days ago against News Corp. (NWS), HarperCollins Publishers, and HarperCollins’s president, Jane Friedman.

When I first got out of law school and was clerking for a federal judge in Texas, I did see a few comparable pleadings, though those were usually filed “pro se” — i.e., by the plaintiff himself, without the assistance of a lawyer. One, I remember, was a civil rights suit naming as defendants the President of the United States, all nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiff’s ex-wife, and a local Pizza Hut.

Like that complaint, Regan’s reads like one of those humor pieces in The New Yorker, where it not-so-gradually dawns on the reader that the narrator is out of his gourd. Even though you’re hearing only one side of the story, that’s enough to make up your mind against the griper.

You’ll recall that Regan, who headed the ReganBooks imprint at HarperCollins, was fired in December 2006 for allegedly using anti-Semitic language in a telephone call with company lawyers, which Regan denied. The call occurred not long after the twin publicity fiascos surrounding Regan’s plans to publish O.J. Simpson’s quasi-confessional If I Did It book and, shortly thereafter, a first-person novel about Mickey Mantle in which the author assumed Mantle’s voice and described, inter alia, a tryst with teammate Joe DiMaggio’s wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Regan’s 70-page, 345-paragraph, 24-count complaint was filed in state court in Manhattan on Tuesday, and is available here. It mainly alleges defamation and breach of contract, but, almost in passing, it throws in a couple counts of sex discrimination, too. “Under Jane Friedman’s direction,” she alleges, “there is . . . a pattern within HarperCollins of firing high-level women in order to surround herself with men.” (She gives no examples besides herself.)

The complaint is signed by attorney Brian Kerr, of New York’s 175-lawyer Dreier firm, but it has an astoundingly unfiltered quality to it. Regan is also represented by famed Los Angeles entertainment lawyer Bert Fields, but the complaint doesn’t list him as counsel. (Through Regan’s spokesperson, both attorneys declined comment.)

Regan’s complaint boasts that she built a “publishing and media juggernaut,” whose recent publications have included, inter alia, “no fewer than three books related to the Scott Peterson case.” It quotes an article describing how Regan’s “early experience as a reporter for the National Enquirer was great training in the art of the popular,” and how her winter 2006 catalog featured a “cover illustration of Regan stretched across a pile of books,” prompting an “unprecedented” article in The New York Times. (The Times‘s headline was, “She’s Not Just the Publisher, She’s the Cover Model, Too.”)

But what’s remarkable about the complaint is how far it ventures beyond merely disputing that she said anything anti-Semitic in that fateful phone call — a seemingly winnable, he-said-she-said squabble had her lawyers stopped her there.

Instead, they’ve allowed her to allege that News Corp. had actually been plotting her demise for at least five years before the Simpson debacle. “This smear campaign was necessary to advance News Corp.’s political agenda, which has long centered on protecting Rudy Giuliani’s presidential ambitions,” they write in paragraph 1 of the complaint. “Defendants knew they would be protecting Giuliani if they could preemptively discredit her,” the complaint continues.

As I understand it, Regan’s saying that News Corp. has been undermining her credibility for years because it feared she knew about unspecified skeletons in Giuliani’s closet that she had learned during her 2001 affair with then-Mayor Giuliani’s then-Police Chief Bernard Kerik and, further, that the company anticipated Regan might go public with if Giuliani ever ran for president. (Or maybe she is only saying she knew skeletons about Kerik, but those, by association, would have been harmful to Giuliani; I’m not sure.)

The company also needed to discredit her, she theorizes, in case she were ever to reveal that in December 2004 two senior News Corp. executives had allegedly advised her to lie to investigators and conceal evidence from them when they began probing Kerik.

A spokeswoman for News Corp. has called the suit “preposterous,” and a spokesperson for HarperCollins and Friedman echoed that sentiment to me.

The defendants’ first attempt to discredit Regan occurred in 2001, she alleges. (The timeline is puzzling, since Kerik did not first come under suspicion for criminal wrongdoing until 2004, and, as a consequence, it wasn’t publicly known until then that he might pose any problems for Giuliani, assuming Giuliani ever did announce for president, as he finally did this year. Kerik pled guilty to two state misdemeanor charges in 2006, and was charged in a 16-count federal indictment last week. He has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.)

Anyway, the 2001 incident was one that Regan’s former close friend Michael Wolff wrote about in a Vanity Fair article in May 2007. As Wolff put it: “Judith lost a cell phone on the set of her TV show [and] she was able to have N.Y.P.D. detectives sent out to the homes of the production-crew members she suspected of having snatched it.”

In the complaint, Regan protests that this was a false, nasty rumor spread by, once again, an unnamed senior News Corp. official. The truth was, she explains, that she had not sent the detectives out to catch the guy who had stolen her phone — no, not at all. Rather, it had been her lover, Kerik, who “used his authority as NYC Police Commissioner to send detectives out to investigate” and “who caused the detectives to knock on the doors of Fox News employees.”

In Regan’s mind, evidently, she has now set the record straight. In like manner, she then proceeds, point-by-point, to give her side of a litany of highly embarrassing events, unwittingly confirming most of them in most key respects. (An exception is the anti-semitic remarks, which she consistently denies.)

Along the way, Regan also dredges up some stories I hadn’t previously heard about and which, had I been her lawyer, I might have chosen to let lie. She complains, for instance, that some unidentified person — it’s unclear from the complaint if it’s even a News Corp. employee — had attributed Regan’s success to her “golden vagina,” but that “when Regan complained about this sexist and insulting remark, nothing was ever done.”

In any case, Regan alleges, News Corp. and Friedman, in pursuit of their farsighted goal of undermining Regan’s credibility, set about poisoning the minds of a great many people, evidently with considerable success. The defendants allegedly disparaged her “to prospective and new employees at ReganBooks,” worked to “turn them against” her, tried “to get them to file complaints against her,” failed “to curtail the activities of HarperCollins insiders” who were constantly making “disparaging remarks” about her; and, all in all, “encourage[d] a culture of gossip, back-stabbing, negative leaks and hostility inside and outside the company.”

Moreover, they “plant[ed] employees within ReganBooks to ‘keep an eye on Regan,’ and report back to the HR department at HarperCollins,” she maintains, and “fail[ed] to investigate the serious security breaches that resulted in (among other incidents) an extremely heavy lighting fixture falling out of the ceiling and shattering Regan’s desk.”

Ironically, one of the accusations that Regan says was unfairly leveled against her, according to the complaint, was that she was “out of control.” Yet, of course, that’s precisely the impression left by the complaint itself.

Slackjawed after reading the complaint, I was struggling to put into words my reaction to it. Now more curious than ever about Regan, I read Wolff’s Vanity Fair piece for the first time. I soon found a description of how I was feeling that seemed to fit perfectly, though he was responding to a different document. He was describing his reaction to the O.J. Simpson book itself, when he finally read it in connection with his story. It was such a “run-amok, phantasmagorical marketing-and-merchandizing scheme,” he wrote, “that all you do, as you read it, is consider the psychopathology of how it ever came into being.”

I can’t improve upon that.

REPLY FROM JUDITH REGAN’S CAMP: (E-mail from Allan Mayer, of 42 West, the public relations firm representing Judith Regan, received Saturday, November 17, at 308 pm):

I write as a representative of Judith Regan. Hannah Arendt noted that it is characteristic of the totalitarian style to substitute questions of motive for questions of fact. This seems to be no less true in the blogosphere, though for “motive” one might substitute “tone.” Certainly, your musings on Judith Regan’s case seem singularly unconcerned with the facts of the matter – namely, that the defendants named in her lawsuit participated in a campaign to destroy her reputation and credibility because they were (and are) afraid of what she knows about Bernie Kerik and Rudy Giuliani. To make such an assertion without any evidence to back it up might indeed be “preposterous,” as News Corp. maintains. But that happens not to be the case here. There is hard evidence corroborating Ms Regan’s claims, and when it is introduced in court (as it will be at the appropriate time), I hope you will have the grace to apologize for your armchair psychologizing and gratuitous insults.