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Arguments Heard in Libel Case Against Moore

A lawyer for Michael Moore (search) asked a federal judge Wednesday to dismiss a libel lawsuit against the documentary filmmaker filed by the brother of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (search).

James Nichols claims Moore tricked him into appearing in "Bowling for Columbine" (search), the Oscar-winning 2002 documentary that studied guns and violence in American culture. Nichols also contends Moore libeled him in the film by linking him to the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.

Neither Moore nor Nichols attended Wednesday's hearing, and the judge did not indicate when he would issue a ruling.

Nichols accuses Moore of libel, defamation of character, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking a jury trial and damages ranging from $10 million to $20 million on each of nine counts.

Moore's recently released "Fahrenheit 9/11" (search) has eclipsed "Bowling for Columbine" as the top-grossing non-concert documentary ever.

Moore's attorney, Herschel Fink, said his client's assertions in "Bowling for Columbine" — including implying that Nichols "slipped away" from authorities investigating the Oklahoma City bombing — are protected as free speech.

"It's a bit of hyperbole, but ... hyperbole is also a Supreme Court-protected form of speech," Fink said.

Wednesday's hearing focused primarily on whether the one-year statute of limitations for libel claims had expired by the time Nichols filed suit on Oct. 27, 2003.

Fink said "Bowling for Columbine" opened in New York and Los Angeles on Oct. 11, 2002, more than a year before the lawsuit was filed. The film opened in widespread release in the United States on Oct. 25, 2002, he said.

Nichols' attorney, Stefani Godsey, said the film opened on Oct. 28 in the area of Michigan where he lived. Nichols was not aware of the movie's existence until a newspaper called him for comment the next day.

Terry Nichols is serving life in prison for his role in the bombing.