“It’s definitely been affected by coronavirus, we would have probably already have had discovery a couple of months ago but everything was closed because of the virus in New York,” Dustin Hice told Fox News. “It was the most degrading, humiliating thing I’ve ever been through and it’s been dragged out. I hate it.”
Fox News obtained a Joint Proposed Discovery Order that was filed in New York’s Eastern District on Friday. It laid out the timeline for the discovery schedule agreed upon by legal teams for both Lemon and Hice, which includes several key dates. Written discovery demands are due by July 20, all discovery must be complete by Dec. 15 and dispositive motions are set for Feb. 2021. Roughly “ten fact witnesses” are expected to be called.
It’s been almost a year since Hice filed an explosive lawsuit against Lemon – who is openly gay -- accusing the “CNN Tonight” host of the lewd act. "[Lemon] put his hand down the front of his own shorts, and vigorously rubbed his genitalia, removed his hand and shoved his index and middle fingers into Plaintiff's mustache and under Plaintiff's nose," according to the lawsuit, filed August 11, 2019 in Suffolk County Court.
In the meantime, America has gone through a holiday season, President Trump’s impeachment trial, the Democratic primaries, the coronavirus pandemic, nationwide police brutality protests, and countless other major news stories – but Hice remains optimistic that justice will be served.
“We have now moved into the discovery phase and we have some time here… we all are going to be deposed. The witnesses are going to be deposed, the facts are going to come to the light and I’m very confident that when this is all said and done, that he will be held accountable,” Hice said.
Lemon offered a six-figure settlement before talks broke down and the formal complaint was filed, according to Hice.
“My life has essentially been on pause. He’s been stalling and he’s actually tried to have it thrown out twice but both times he was denied. It’s not going away,” Hice said. “He did this in front of a room full of people and they all saw what he did. He’s offered me a substantial amount of money to make this go away and I have denied it.”
CNN did not immediately respond to a series of questions from Fox News, including a request for comment regarding Hice’s claim that Lemon offered him a six-figure settlement.
Lemon has adamantly denied wrongdoing. On June 3, his attorney wrote in a court document that that Lemon is “often subjected to racist and homophobic harassment” and “strangers” often approach him in public, at “times intrusively and repeatedly." Lemon’s attorney also called Hice’s allegations “speculative, hypothetical, unsupported by any reasonable methodology” and “not cognizable as a matter of law.”
Lemon’s attorney, Caroline Polisi, declined comment.
Lemon allegedly asked a crude question about Hice’s sexual preference during the alleged physical confrontation, leaving him “shocked and humiliated,” according to the suit. The incident allegedly occurred at Murf’s Backstreet Tavern, in the prestigious Hamptons area east of New York City in July 2018.
“If he isn’t willing to admit fault, there is no amount of money that will make this right, in my mind. I don’t really trust the media,” Hice said. “I’ve basically been told I don’t matter. This is something I’m going to be healing from the rest of my life and, in order for me to get past this, there has to be some kind of justice and accountability.”
Hice was originally told the process would take 12-18 months but coronavirus and other factors have prolonged the ordeal, with 2021 now a likely target for a resolution.
Since the alleged assault, Hice says he has battled depression and been sleep deprived.
“It’s been draining and exhausting,” Hice said. “This has by far been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done but eventually I feel like that happened will come to light and accountability will happen.”
Hice said that he didn’t watch Lemon’s show before the alleged encounter, but he now tunes in periodically, and sometimes can’t look away despite the pain it causes.
“The guy that assaulted me is on television every night,” Hice said. “It’s like a knife twisting in my side on a daily basis. I’ve laid in bed and felt the heart beating out of my chest after I watched the news.”
CNN adamantly defended Lemon when Hice’s claims first became public.
“The plaintiff in this lawsuit has previously displayed a pattern of contempt for CNN on his social media accounts,” a CNN spokesperson told Fox News in a statement when the suit was first filed last year. “This claim follows his unsuccessful threats and demands for an exorbitant amount of money from Don Lemon.”
“Don categorically denies these claims and this matter does not merit any further comment at this time,” the CNN spokesperson added last year.
Hice didn’t appreciate CNN rushing to Lemon’s defense and feels the network should have enlisted an outside firm to seek the truth.
“This has really never been about money for me, it’s about justice and accountability. CNN quickly took his side, made a claim about me that I had anti-CNN rants, and basically labeled me a liar and basically said I was trying to extort him. Those are all lies,” Hice said.
NBC News has come under fire for refusing to enlist an outside law firm to investigate claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, whereas other media companies have hired white-shoe law firms to probe similar claims.
“CNN didn’t feel the need to do their own independent investigation, which I think they should have because they would see there are multiple witnesses,” he added. “They probably didn’t know about the multiple settlement offers.”
CNN did not immediately respond when asked why an independent investigation was not launched.