updated 7/3/2004 4:04:00 PM ET 2004-07-03T20:04:00

A judge dismissed a libel lawsuit filed against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by a woman who accused him of groping her. She said the campaign falsely labeled her a convicted criminal.

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Rhonda Miller, 53, charged that Schwarzenegger and his campaign intentionally defamed her after she held a news conference the day before last year’s recall election and claimed the actor had lifted her shirt and assaulted her on a movie set. It was among a number of similar accusations that roiled the campaign in the days before Schwarzenegger successfully ousted then-Gov. Gray Davis.

Hours after her news conference, a Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman sent an e-mail to reporters directing them to a court Web site to search for records of a Rhonda Miller whose history included prostitution, drug crimes and disorderly conduct. She turned out to be a different Rhonda Miller.

Miller, a stuntwoman, has no arrests or convictions for such crimes, her attorneys said.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Robert L. Hess ruled that because Miller held a news conference to broadcast her allegations against Schwarzenegger, she was a limited public figure.

As a result, her attorneys needed to furnish “clear and convincing” evidence that Schwarzenegger knew Miller had no criminal history when the campaign sent the e-mail. That higher standard of proof wasn’t met, the judge ruled. Schwarzenegger denied even knowing the e-mail was written.

Additionally, there was no proof that Schwarzenegger’s campaign communications director, Sean Walsh, who sent the message, or others were aware Miller had no criminal record, the judge said.

“This case presents an arguable failure to further investigate where a reasonable, prudent person might have done so,” Hess said. But, he added, “the court is not persuaded that it presents a purposeful avoidance of the truth.”

Appeal promised
Miller and her attorneys promised to appeal.

“I think I should have the right to have my day in court,” Miller said in a statement.

But Martin Singer, a lawyer for the governor, said the decision showed that Miller’s lawsuit was frivolous and Schwarzenegger “should never have been sued.”

Days before the Oct. 7 election, the Los Angeles Times detailed allegations from six women who said Schwarzenegger groped or sexually harassed them between 1975 and 2000. By the election, the number had grown to 16.

According to Miller, Schwarzenegger accosted her in 1991 during the filming of “Terminator 2” and three years later while shooting “True Lies.”

Without giving detail or naming names, Schwarzenegger apologized before the election for “behaving badly sometimes” and said he had been on “rowdy movie sets.” But the campaign denied the incidents alleged by Miller had ever happened.

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