WASHINGTON — A federal judge today dismissed Pat Robertson's $35-million libel suit against former Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey Jr. (R-Menlo Park), who had questioned his Korean War record, after the GOP presidential candidate backed down and agreed to pay court costs estimated at anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green signed a brief order dismissing the case "with prejudice," which means that McCloskey is legally the victor in the dispute.
Robertson accepted the condition the judge imposed Friday in a one-sentence letter from his attorney, Douglas V. Rigler.
"He concedes by that motion that I have been telling the truth for the last 37 years," McCloskey said in a telephone interview from his home in San Francisco.
"This is a confirmation of my integrity," he said. "I don't like at the age of 60 to be called a pathological liar all over the United States. He is admitting that he is the one who is the liar."
McCloskey's lawyers said they would consider filing a countersuit to force Robertson to pay them approximately $400,000 in legal fees. McCloskey said he might set up a defense fund to pay the bill.
"I've had over 50 Marines call in and say they would help with the attorneys' fees," he said.
Robertson, who spoke to reporters during a campaign stop in Wichita Falls, Tex., said the judge "gave me what I consider a real victory" in dismissing the suit.
"She denied him any court costs--any damages, I should say. He asked for $400,000. And I have the privilege of suing him once the primary is over," he said.
Further Action Barred
However, in her opinion issued last week, Green quoted--and underlined--a passage from a 1985 federal appeals court opinion stating: "Dismissal of an action with prejudice is a complete adjudication of the issues presented by the pleadings and is a bar to further action between the parties."
McCloskey's attorney George Lehner said he understood that this citation in Green's opinion means his client cannot be sued again over any statements he makes about Robertson's war record.
"It's an absolute dead letter," Lehner said.
If Robertson had rejected Green's dismissal, he would have had to go to court in Washington on Tuesday to begin the trial, which was expected to last about three weeks.
Obstacle to Campaign
Robertson said the scheduled start of the trial on Super Tuesday--when 20 states hold primaries or caucuses with a lion's share of delegates at stake--would have unfairly forced him to choose between his campaign for the GOP nomination and trying to vindicate his personal honor.
The suit stems from McCloskey's allegation that Robertson invoked the political influence of his late father, Sen. A. Willis Robertson (D-Va.), to avoid combat in the Korean War.