- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear an appeal from one of the first women trained to fly U.S. Navy combat jets, who claimed during a lengthy and contentious court battle that an advocacy group ruined her military career with a smear campaign questioning her abilities as a pilot.

Former Navy Lt. Carey D. Lohrenz, one of two women trained 10 years ago to fly the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat jet, charged in a 1996 lawsuit that Elaine Donnelly and her Center for Military Readiness, along with two newspapers, destroyed her career after the 1994 death of Lt. Kara Hultgreen, the other female pilot, who crashed while landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

The Center for Military Readiness, which is opposed to women serving in combat, had charged in a report that Lt. Lohrenz and Lt. Hultgreen were substandard pilots and that the Pentagon had used a “politically driven” double standard to help them qualify for duty.

Mrs. Lohrenz later sued Mrs. Donnelly and the owners of the San Diego Union Tribune and The Washington Times, which had reported Mrs. Donnelly’s claims. Mrs. Lohrenz charged in the suit that she was the victim of a smear campaign that ultimately cost her a flying career.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against Mrs. Lohrenz, saying she could not sue the center or the newspapers because she was a public figure and because she failed to show that the newspapers acted with malice.

The panel also ruled unanimously that U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth had correctly thrown out the suit brought by Mrs. Lohrenz.

The report by the Center for Military Readiness focused on the standards the Navy applied to female pilots in 1993-94 when it lifted the ban on female combat pilots. The 1995 report accused the Navy of providing extra favors to Lt. Lohrenz to ensure she qualified as the first female F-14 fighter pilot.

Much of the report was based on Lt. Lohrenz’s training records, provided by one of her instructors, former Lt. Patrick J. Burns.

The Navy eventually removed Lt. Lohrenz from the Abraham Lincoln for what it said was unsafe flying. She filed a libel suit against Mrs. Donnelly in 1996, commencing the long legal fight.

Whether Mrs. Lohrenz was a public figure in 1994 was the case’s key issue. Judge Lamberth ruled that her volunteering to becoming a pioneering woman pilot thrust her into public-figure status. As such, she not only had to prove that Mrs. Donnelly’s report was false, but also that she showed actual malice and a reckless disregard for the truth.

The appeals court ruled that Mrs. Lohrenz was, in fact, a public figure. The opinion also strongly suggested that what Mrs. Donnelly wrote was true.

“The information that Donnelly and CMR received reasonably led them not to investigate allegedly contradictory evidence,” said Judge Judith W. Rogers, who wrote the unanimous opinion. “By the time Donnelly published The Donnelly Report, she had additional information from the Navy that appeared to confirm much of what Lt. Burns had told her about Lt. Lohrenz.”

Concurring in the opinion were Judges Laurence Silberman and John G. Roberts.

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