Former CBS 3 anchor Larry Mendte filed a lawsuit late yesterday against two Inquirer reporters and a former Daily News columnist, claiming charges of defamation and false light, according to court documents.
The lawsuit alleges that Mendte and former co-anchor Alycia Lane once had "a romantic relationship."
Mendte was fired from CBS 3 in June 2008, after federal investigators learned that he had hacked into Lane's e-mail account on several occasions. Mendte was convicted and served six months' house arrest in his Chestnut Hill home, which ended Monday.
Lane, who filed her own lawsuit against the Daily News and others on Sept. 23, was fired after her arrest in New York in December 2007, allegedly for assaulting a police officer, but charges in the case were dismissed.
Mendte's lawsuit claims that the romantic relationship lasted from late 2003 to January 2005.
When Mendte was indicted last August, he said in a statement: "The rumors were true. Alycia and I had a flirtatious, unprofessional, and improper relationship" characterized by spending many late nights and long dinners together.
Yesterday's court filing was the first time their relationship had been characterized as "romantic."
Mendte said he ended the relationship "to repair his marriage to his wife, Dawn Stensland Mendte," Fox29 news anchor, according to the complaint.
Lane's attorney, Paul Rosen, who labeled the portrayal of the Mendte's relationship with Lane as "old news, " said of Mendte, "He uses the words 'romantic relationship,' but the only romantic relationship was in his head."
Named in Mendte's suit are Inquirer gossip columnist Michael Klein, Inquirer entertainment critic Jonathan Storm and former Daily News columnist Jill Porter, as well as the newspaper's owner, Philadelphia Media Holdings.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court because the company filed for bankruptcy protection in February. It says that because of the defendants' stories, Mendte "suffered harm to his professional and personal reputation."
Scott Baker, general counsel for the newspapers, said: "We will review the case and intend to vigorously defend ourselves and our employees."
Porter, who retired from the Daily News in April, and Klein declined comment when reached by phone last night.
"Mike and Jon are quality reporters who were just doing their job," said Inquirer managing editor Mike Leary.
"Jill Porter's column was fair comment by a veteran observer," said Daily News editor Michael Days. "We very much stand behind Jill."
Julia Morrow, Mendte's attorney, read a statement by phone to the Daily News last night: "Larry Mendte sat quietly for months while false and inflammatory information and commentary was written about him. . . . He seeks an outing of the truth and to set the record straight."
The lawsuit alleges that Klein, a news reporter, food writer and gossip columnist, may have done a favor for Lane, with whom he has a "close friendship," according to the complaint.
Klein, the lawsuit claims, tapped into the Daily News database - which he would normally not have access to - in order to gain access to an article written by Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross before its May 2, 2007, publication. The column detailed the fuss surrounding photos of Lane in a bikini that she sent to ESPN anchor Rich Eisen, a friend of hers.
Klein read the story "word for word to Lane during long conversations over the telephone," according to the complaint.
One reporter for Philly.com, the newspapers' Web site, learned of Klein's purported disclosure to Lane and wanted to report it, "but was instructed not to do so, " the lawsuit alleges.
Storm, who covers TV news for the Inquirer, wrote an article for Philly.com shortly after Mendte pleaded guilty last year to one felony count of computer tampering. In the piece, the suit claims, Storm "called [Mendte] a liar in connection with his public statement about the inappropriate relationship he claimed existed between he and Lane."
Porter wrote two opinion columns for the Daily News about the Lane-Mendte saga. She "placed blame on [Mendte] for 'destroying' Lane and 'cementing her doom,' " the complaint read.
Morrow wrote in the complaint, "There is no evidence that Lane has been 'destroyed' or that [Mendte] 'destroyed' her." *