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Candidate Threatens Suit Over Comments

April 03, 1998|HUGO MARTIN

There is an old expression that a party is not a party until something gets broken. In politics, it can be said that a campaign is not a campaign until someone threatens to sue.

The race for the congressional seat held by Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) can now officially be declared a campaign.

But the threat of a lawsuit does not involve Sherman, the freshman incumbent who is seeking reelection to represent parts of the west San Fernando Valley and Conejo Valley. Instead, it is Republican candidates Joe Gelman and Randy Hoffman who are locking horns.

It started a few months ago when Gelman began to make an issue of a device sold by Magellan Systems Inc., the firm Hoffman co-founded and headed before resigning to run for Congress.

The firm makes hand-held devices that use satellite signals to allow users to determine their exact location anywhere in the world. The U. S. military relied on Magellan's global navigation devices to help troops find their way through the sands of the Middle East during Desert Storm.

But what got Gelman upset is that Magellan began in 1994 to produce a satellite navigation device that allows users to view data in English and Arabic. The device was marketed to Arabic-speaking countries.

Gelman charges that the device can be used by Middle Eastern enemies of the United States and Israel, such as Iraq.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that such sales are a threat to the qualitative technological edge of America's leading ally in the Middle East, Israel," Gelman said in a press release he issued in January.

When Hoffman's attorneys got wind of Gelman's charges, they threatened to sue Gelman for defaming Hoffman.

"We demand that you immediately cease and desist from any further defamatory publications of your false and malicious statements regarding Mr. Hoffman's alleged complicity with the government of Iraq," James Sweeney, an attorney representing Hoffman, said in a letter to Gelman. "Should these statements continue to be made, we have been authorized by our client to immediately institute legal proceedings against you."

As of yet, no lawsuit has been filed.

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