By Patricia Hurtado
Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Judith Regan, who was fired last year from News Corp.'s HarperCollins unit, sued the companies, claiming to be the victim of a ``deliberate smear campaign'' aimed at protecting presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani.
Regan, former president of HarperCollins' ReganBooks division, seeks at least $100 million in damages in a complaint filed today in state Supreme Court in New York. Regan claims in her complaint that News Corp. tried to destroy her reputation because she has information about former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik that would be harmful to ex-New York Mayor Giuliani and his presidential campaign.
``The smear campaign was necessary to advance News Corp.'s political agenda, which has long centered on protecting Rudy Giuliani's presidential ambitions,'' Regan said in the complaint.
Regan, who published Kerik's autobiography ``The Lost Son,'' was fired from HarperCollins in December 2006 after she backed O.J. Simpson's book, ``If I Did It.'' In the book, Simpson described how he could have killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
News Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch canceled publication of the Simpson book and a Fox broadcast special starring Simpson in November 2006, saying it was an ``ill- considered project.'' Regan's suit also names HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman as a defendant.
Regan claims in the suit that she generated more than $1 billion in book sales for News Corp. HarperCollins shut its ReganBooks unit in January.
Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for News Corp. said ``the claims are preposterous.'' He declined comment further on the complaint.
Maria Comella, a spokeswoman for Giuliani's campaign, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Kerik couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
In her complaint, Regan said she built a ``publishing and media juggernaut'' whose imprint sold ``tens of millions of books'' after she left Simon & Schuster to join News Corp. in 1994. She said News Corp. had a ``double standard,'' set her up as a scapegoat for the O.J. Simpson controversy, and fired her without cause, fabricating numerous stories that she was a ``disgraceful and unethical publisher.''
Murdoch ``personally'' approved of the Simpson book and suggested paying $1 million for the project, Regan claims in her suit. When the controversy erupted over the project, the defendants planted false stories in the press to discredit her, Regan said, including one allegation that she was fired because she made anti-Semitic comments and had claimed to be the victim of a ``Jewish cabal'' in the book industry.
``The charge was completely fabricated,'' Regan said in her complaint.
While not specifying what information she has about Kerik, who she claims had a ``personal relationship'' with her, Regan said that an unnamed News Corp. executive told her to withhold information and documents from investigators in their probe of the former police commissioner. Kerik was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury on tax evasion and conspiracy charges.
``It is now widely accepted that one of Giuliani's major political vulnerabilities is his association with Bernard Kerik,'' Regan said in her suit.
``A senior executive in the News Corp. organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani's presidential campaign,'' according to the complaint. ``This executive advised Regan to lie to, and withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.''
Regan published books about radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, as well as a book about porn star Jenna Jameson. All were best sellers for either Simon & Schuster or ReganBooks, she said in the complaint.
News Corp. Class A shares rose 91 cents to $22.24 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Net income fell to $732 million, or 23 cents a share, in the first quarter, from $843 million, or 27 cents, a year earlier, New York-based News Corp. said in a Nov. 7 statement. Sales rose 19 percent to $7.1 billion.
The case is Judith Regan v. HarperCollins Publishers LLC, 603758/2007, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).