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Jury Finds Hustler, Flynt Libeled Penthouse Exec

August 8, 1986

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Hustler magazine lost a $2 million libel verdict to rival Penthouse magazine executive Kathy Keeton, but Hustler’s lawyers promise that the 9- year-old case isn’t over yet.

″I think it’s inevitable″ that Hustler will appeal, said David Carson, a lawyer for Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, after a U.S. District Court jury returned its verdict Thursday afternoon.

″We’re confident we’ll win on appeal,″ added Jim Kohls, president of LFP Inc., Flynt’s Los Angeles publishing company. Kohls said Flynt would have no immediate comment.

Jury foreman Allan Kingsbury said the panel awarded $2 million to Keeton, Penthouse vice chairman and president of Omni magazine, because ″we just felt she deserved more than just a ’sorry.‴

Keeton charged she was libeled by material published and republished in Hustler from 1975 to as recently as a month ago.

Central to her case were a full-page cartoon that suggested she had contracted gonorrhea from Penthouse publisher Robert Guccione, with whom she lives, and a centerfold pictorial of a nude model - not Keeton - with a headline, ″Kathy Keeton - who says you’re over the hill at 50?″

Hustler’s lawyers acknowledged during the three-day trial that Keeton never had any kind of venereal disease. Lawyers for both sides said after the trial that she was at least 13 years younger than 50 when the centerfold was published in 1975.

The jury, which deliberated for 70 minutes, rejected Hustler’s claims that Keeton’s past work as a stripper and continued close association with the sexually explicit Penthouse precluded her from collecting substantial damages, Kingsbury said.

Hustler lawyer Dort Bigg had argued Thursday that Keeton ″has spent a lifetime in the exploitation of sex, of skin″ and that ″she has developed over the years a tough hide. It comes with the game.″

But jurors believed ″she’s still her own person, whether (she’s) in that business or any business,″ Kingsbury said Thursday night in a telephone interview.

After the verdict was announced, Keeton said, ″What I’ve established is that Mr. Flynt cannot do whatever he wants to everybody without consequences.″

From his office in New York, Guccione said he was very satisfied with the verdict.

″Flynt happens to be unique,″ Guccione said. ″He’s an incorrigible individual and the only way to stop him is to punish him financially.″

Keeton originally sued Hustler and Flynt in 1977 in Ohio, where Hustler was then based, and asked for $80 million in damages. The case was thrown out when the judge ruled the statute of limitations had expired.

Keeton refiled the suit in 1980 in New Hampshire, which at the time had the most leisurely statute-of-limitation laws in the country.

An appeals court judge in Boston dismissed the suit, saying neither Keeton nor Hustler had enough contact with New Hampshire to warrant federal court jurisdiction.

The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the case in 1984, saying that a plaintiff in a defamation suit against a national publication may in effect shop around for the state with the most favorable laws and filing deadlines.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court in November 1983 were interrupted when Flynt hurled a stream of profanities at the justices. Flynt later served five months in jail.

Flynt did not appear at the three-day trial, but Keeton’s chief lawyer read testimony he had given in sworn depositions in 1979 and 1984 - including the statement that he ″didn’t care then and (doesn’t) care now″ about libel laws.

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