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O'Reilly harassment charges head to court

Sexual harassment alleged, O'Reilly claims extortion

Bill O'Reilly, host of "The O'Reilly Factor"
Bill O'Reilly
Sexual Harassment
Newspaper and Magazines

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Lawyers for Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly are due in court next Friday where the existence of recordings of phone conversations between the anchor and an associate producer working on his show could be a key topic.

Andrea Mackris, an associate producer for "The O'Reilly Factor," filed a lawsuit October 13 accusing her boss of sexual harassment and creating a sexually hostile work environment.

Hours earlier, O'Reilly and Fox had filed a lawsuit accusing the employee and her attorneys of attempted extortion. Mackris followed by amending her complaint to claim retaliation.

The October 29 hearing in Nassau County Supreme Court in New York will deal specifically with the suit brought by O'Reilly and Fox. O'Reilly and Mackris are not obliged to attend the hearing and it is unlikely they will, a court spokesman told CNN.

According to Mackris' lawyer's office she is spending time with her family in Manhattan.

"An attorney for Mr. O'Reilly told me he thought his client would not attend the hearing," said Nassau County Supreme Court spokesman Daniel Bagnuola. "Mr. O'Reilly's legal team must give the court one day's notice if he is going to attend the hearing and we've heard nothing from them yet."

Bagnuola also said it has not been determined if the hearing will take place in the courtroom or in the judge's chambers.

According to the complaint filed by Mackris, the sexual harassment occurred during phone conversations and dinners, and consisted of verbal lewdness.

O'Reilly's attorneys last week said they do not believe the actions alleged by Mackris would be illegal. O'Reilly and Fox, in an amended complaint, have asked the judge to clarify whether the allegations made by Mackris have any merit.

Mackris' complaint detailed many alleged phone conversations, including one August 24, 2004, when, it said, "O'Reilly again started talking about sex and suggested that if he had a hotel room that night he would have invited her up. Defendant further suggested that plaintiff Andrea Mackris purchase a vibrator. ... When plaintiff became embarrassed and told him that she was not interested, O'Reilly again suggested: 'We should do it together, I could coach you through it.' "

O'Reilly's complaint, in turn, states, "Defendants seek to extort 60 million dollars from plaintiffs in return for not going public with a scandalous and scurrilous claim based on alleged inappropriate comments made to Mackris by O'Reilly."

Ronald Green, attorney for News Corp., Fox News Channel and O'Reilly, said Mackris' lawyer, Benedict Morelli, has a tape of the conversation but neither Green nor his clients have heard any recording. Green said he was certain there was nothing on it that would incriminate O'Reilly.

O'Reilly's lawyers asked a judge to make Mackris' lawyers produce and play any tapes, if they exist, at the hearing Friday but the judge did not agree to the request.

If tape recordings do exist, Mackris' lawyers will have to explain at the hearing why they should not be produced.

Speaking on "The O'Reilly Factor" about the lawsuit against him, O'Reilly said, "This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I've seen a lot."

Mackris, who started working for "The O'Reilly Factor" in April 2000, says O'Reilly made continuous sexually lewd comments, beginning in May 2002, soon after she broke up with her fiance.

At a press conference October 13, Morelli said, "The complaint contains detailed and provable allegations that demonstrate how egregious Mr. O'Reilly's behavior was."

He said his firm and representatives from Fox News had been negotiating the terms of Mackris' complaint for two weeks prior to the filing of the sexual harassment lawsuit.

The suit filed by O'Reilly and Fox against Mackris claims that she, Morelli, and Morelli's firm were attempting to extort $60 million from them.

The complaint stated, "Defendants have not acted in good faith. Instead, they have sought to extort 'blood money' by threatening to destroy O'Reilly, his family and his career, and to embarrass and severely injure Fox's reputation and financial interests."

"The way Fox and Mr. O'Reilly retaliated against Ms. Mackris and her attorneys, myself, and my law firm is by suing us in a meritless lawsuit, claiming extortion," Morelli said in response.

He refused to confirm that the amount discussed was $60 million, citing a confidentiality agreement between his firm and Fox in regard to their negotiations.

"The most striking element that should be noted is neither Fox nor Bill O'Reilly deny the specific behavior Mrs. Mackris alleges in her complaint," Morelli said.

Earlier this week O'Reilly referred to the legal dispute on his radio show, "The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly."

"This is my fault. I was stupid, and I'm not a victim, but I can't allow certain things to happen and I appreciate your support, we get thousands of letters," O'Reilly said.

"I am stupid, I am a stupid guy, and every guy listening knows how that is -- that we are very stupid at times, but there comes a time in life where you got to stand and fight and I knew these people were going to do this, I knew they were going to do everything they could to try to destroy me and the channel and I just made a decision that I'm just going to ride it out, and I'm going to fight them."

In a conference call with reporters last week, Green, attorney for News Corp., Fox News Channel and O'Reilly, said Mackris had never filed any complaints with human resources at Fox during her four years there.

When asked about the motivation for Mackris' suit, he said "the motivation is money." Green said Mackris' attorney was originally going to ask for a settlement of $600 million but offered to lower it to $60 million.

Mackris left Fox in 2004 for a higher-paying job at CNN. After five months there, she returned to "The O'Reilly Factor" in July 2004.

Green said that Mackris was not happy at CNN and asked to return to Fox.

On October 13 he said that she was working at Fox until about one week before, at which time she came into the office and cleaned out her desk, telling co-workers she would no longer be working there. But Green said Mackris is still employed by Fox with an annual salary in excess of $90,000.

Although Mackris' complaint reports that she is still employed by Fox News, Morelli told reporters that Mackris has been told not to report to work.

CNN's Jonathan Wald contributed to this report.

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