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JAN
13
3 YEARS

Former Golden Globes Publicist Sues Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Claiming 'Payola'

UPDATED: Michael Russell is accusing HFPA members of "payola" in connection with the Globes awards.

Golden Globes
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Russell, who for years represented the Golden Globes as its lead publicist, has filed a $2 million lawsuit accusing the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. of "payola" in connection with the show.

The suit -- filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court on the eve of Sunday's Globes telecast by Russell, Stephen Locascio, Cinepoint Prods and the Michael Russell Group -- accuses the journalist organization of terminating a deal for Russell and his company to rep the show after he asked that the association stop accepting "payola" in connection with the Globes awards.

The lawsuit says Russell and Locascio attempted to convince HFPA president Philip Berk(also a defendant) to end the alleged "unethical and potentially unlawful deals" that many of the 90-odd HFPA members allegedly engage in, conduct the plaintiffs say amounts to "payola" and violates California law.

Among the allegations:

-- That HFPA members accept lavish vacations, junket lodging, gifts and other perks provided by studios in exchange for support in nominating particular films.

-- That Globes voters sell media credentials for profit in the form of space on the red carpet offered to low-profile or unknown "media" entities wanting to cover the Globes. "HFPA members' media outlets were always the first to be approved for a space on the red carpet, no matter how relatively insignificant those media outlets were in the context of the Golden Globes broadcast," the complaint alleges.

-- Accepting payment from studios and producers for "representing" films and lobbying other HFPA members for Golden Globe nominations and awards.

"Such policies and practices allow members to illegally profit from their association in the nonprofit corporation and violate federal communications law prohibiting hidden 'payola' schemes," the lawsuit alleges. "Most of HFPA's members are not full-time journalists and rely on income generated from these questionable practices each year."

The suit says Russell repeatedly tried to convince Berk to end the allegedly improper behavior. In response, "Berk expressly acknowledged to Russell that these activities were problematic and the HFPA was a corrupt organization, that its members are only out to use the organization to generate income for themselves and that many conflicts of interest exist with regard to the above-specified activities of the HFPA and its members," the suit alleges.

Russell and Cinepoint were fired in 2010 after handling publicity for the Globes since 1993, helping the HFPA take the event from a small insider affair to a worldwide television event that allegedly reaps a $12 million-per-year license fee from NBC.

Interestingly, the lawsuit claims that the HFPA has completed negotiation of a new deal with NBC to broadcast the Globes for a fee of $26 million per year. The HFPA has previously said that there is no deal and there would be no negotiations until 30 days after Sunday's telecast. (The HFPA is also involved in another lawsuit with Dick Clark Prods, which produces the show.)

Reps for the HFPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. UPDATE: The HFPA has released this statement: “Michael Russell and Steve Locascio’s allegations are completely without merit. This is no more than the case of a disgruntled former consulting firm, whose contract was not renewed, attempting to take advantage once again of the Globe’s international stage for their own gain.”

The 10-count complaint includes claims for breach of contract, interference with contract, fraud, defamation and violations of California's business and professions code.