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Political Consultant Protests Airing of His Criminal Past

Courts: Letters sent to his clients ruined his business, onetime child molester alleges.

March 15, 1999|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Can a convicted child molester successfully sue someone for damaging his reputation?

That is the overriding issue in a lawsuit filed by political consultant Timothy M. Carey of Torrance against former state controller candidate William Snow Hume of Fullerton.

Carey, 40, contends in the Harbor Justice Center suit that Hume, 41, destroyed his business by sending four defamatory letters beginning last October to clients of Carey's California Voter Guide, which is a political advertisement sent to voters before each election.

Hume's letters informed them of Carey's criminal past: conviction of three felonies in 1992 for committing lewd acts on a then 12-year-old girl.

After receiving Hume's letters, Carey said, several candidates withdrew from the guide, saying they didn't want the political risk of being associated with him. Many demanded refunds.

Carey's lawsuit alleges defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unlawful business interference. He said Hume's actions harmed his reputation and triggered an undisclosed medical condition for which he is seeking "lifelong physical therapy, counseling and incidental expenses."

Hume, a frequent candidate for local office, said he sent the letters because he was "horrified" to learn last year, months after asking Carey to advise his campaign, that the consultant had been convicted of molesting a girl.

"I look at it as a consumer protection thing," Hume said. "People have a right to know who they're doing business with. Also, I will admit that I don't want to help child molesters make a fortune. I'd never voluntarily give my business to someone who's a scumbag like that."

Neither Carey nor his attorney, Renee Garcia of Santa Ana, returned calls seeking comment.

One legal expert said Hume's letters could be compared to Megan's Law, which allows the addresses of registered sex offenders to be made public.

The problem for Carey is persuading a jury that Hume overstepped his bounds of free speech and made statements that were more damaging to his reputation than information in the public record, said Robert Pugsley, a constitutional law professor at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles.

Finding sympathetic jurors will be tough, he said.

"A jury's going to hear 'child molester' and they'll puke," Pugsley said. "They'll be back in five minutes."

However, that doesn't mean a child molester can't be defamed or prove injury to his reputation. "You still have some rights," Pugsley said. "Nobody is totally thrown off the planet."

*

California Voter Guide is mailed to Republican voters and promotes candidates through slate cards, which list preferred candidates for state and local offices. Though some candidates are listed free of charge, others, including legislative, city council and school board hopefuls, pay for placement on the slates.

Newport Beach political consultant Frank Caterinicchio said the guide is a reputable slate mailer used by candidates and consultants statewide.

Some political insiders know of Carey's past, but "I wouldn't say his personal problems tarnish the viability of the slates," Caterinicchio said. "There are a lot of people involved in making it successful."

Carey said in the lawsuit that Hume set out to harass him with the letters, which accuse him of being "incapable" of conducting his business or fulfilling his business promises. He said Hume libeled him by calling him untrustworthy, manipulative and unrepentant.

"[Hume's] conduct was intentional and malicious and done for the purpose of causing [Carey] to suffer humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress," the lawsuit alleges.

Hume, a certified public accountant and third-year student at Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, argued in court papers that if Carey was harmed or distressed, it was through Carey's own actions. Discussion of Carey's conviction is a matter of legitimate public concern, he said.

In four letters, Hume accused Carey of concealing his past from clients, putting them at risk of unwittingly having their relationship with a convicted sex offender used against them by opponents.

Hume also alleged that Carey sent a forged letter to a judge seeking leniency in sentencing for the sex charges. And, he alleged, Carey filed a complaint accusing the victim's parents of negligence in an effort to avoid paying court-ordered counseling costs for the girl.

Carey, in court documents, denied that he forged any letter or that he tried to get out of paying the counseling costs.

Hume said he began researching Carey's record in June after a political acquaintance mentioned that Carey had been accused in the past of a sex crime. That led to him to Los Angeles County Superior Court records, which showed that Carey pleaded no contest to fondling a young neighbor on three occasions in January 1992, when the girl visited his boat in Long Beach Harbor.

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