Marianne Nestor-Cassini, the widow of Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat designer Oleg Cassini, is suing Vanity Fair and Condé Nast for $10 million, according to a complaint filed with the county clerk’s office of the New York State Supreme Court last Wednesday. Nestor-Cassini has accused Vanity Fair correspondent Maureen Orth — the author of a feature in the magazine last September called “Cassini Royale,” edited by executive literary editor Wayne Lawson, about ongoing legal disputes over the designer’s will between two children from his second marriage and his widow — of “unprofessional, salacious, inaccurate, false, prurient and libelous reporting.”
The complaint outlines three different causes for legal action against the magazine: slander, libel and a violation of New York civil rights law for the “use of her name and/or picture for the purpose of deriving commercial gain” without her consent.
This story first appeared in the August 9, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Nestor-Cassini declined to be interviewed for the story, but the complaint suggests that Orth’s calls to Nestor-Cassini’s friends and acquaintances “allegedly to check facts of statements that are outrageous, patently false, contain misleading salacious, and prurient representations and descriptions and other disparaging and scandalous material” slandered her, as did the fact-checking process.
Yet at the same time the magazine failed to “properly source and fact check the material in accordance with even the most minimal journalistic standards,” the complaint says.
“Defendants have acted with malice,” the complaint asserts bluntly.
The complaint cites one allegedly damaging line of fact-checking inquiry followed by Robert Walsh, the magazine’s legal affairs editor: “An example being — a question from Robert Walsh, counsel for Condé Nast, in an e-mail which stated: ‘Did Marianne have parties at a Fifth Avenue apartment in the 1960s — to which prominent New York men such as [late CBS chief executive] Bill Paley were invited?’”
Walsh is not a lawyer, according to a Vanity Fair spokeswoman on Monday.
“Marianne never had a Fifth Avenue apartment in the 1960s,” the complaint continues, adding she didn’t know Paley and alleging that S.I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Advance Publications, would know that she lived in SoHo then because the two were acquaintances at the time. It indicates that somehow his knowledge of Nestor-Cassini’s address in the Sixties would have been called upon during Vanity Fair’s fact-checking process.
Nowhere does the complaint take objection to specific anecdotes included in Orth’s story. It may even corroborate certain facts, such as the idea that Nestor-Cassini seems to be perennially engaged in legal action. She has been the plaintiff or defendant in no fewer than 15 lawsuits in the last two decades, Orth wrote.
Nestor-Cassini and both law firms named on the complaint as her representation did not return requests for comment. “We don’t generally comment on pending litigation,” Vanity Fair’s spokeswoman wrote in a statement.