Cussler on losing end of 'Sahara' fees award

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The long-running legal drama over the 2005 superflop "Sahara" has taken a surprising turn, with a judge ruling that author Clive Cussler must pay Philip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment nearly $14 million in legal fees.

In a decision issued after a spirited four-hour hearing Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shook found that Cussler's contracts with Crusader to adapt his "Sahara" novel into a film required the losing party in litigation to pay the winner's attorneys fees. Shook ruled that Cussler was the loser based on a 2007 jury finding that Cussler owed Crusader $5 million in damages.

The $13.9 million award is extremely high and reflects the cost of a prolonged and contentious legal battle between well-funded Hollywood adversaries.

"This entire ordeal has been very long, very trying and very expensive," said David Weil, CEO of Anschutz Film Group, parent company of Crusader (since renamed Bristol Bay Prods.). "And it was initiated by Clive Cussler, not us, so to have this kind of result really vindicates us."

Cussler's attorney, Bert Fields, said the judge's ruling contradicted the jury in the case and that he is appealing the award.

"The jury decided in favor of Clive Cussler on most of the issues," Fields said. "The judge took that away from Cussler. We're absolutely 100% confident that it will be overturned."

Before the Matthew McConaughey-Penelope Cruz actioner was released, Cussler sued Crusader for about $40 million, claiming it had violated his right to script approval. Crusader countersued on several grounds, including that Cussler sabotaged the film with unreasonable script demands and told his fans not to see it. Crusader sought $100 million.

After a high-profile four-month trial, a jury ruled in May 2007 that the best-selling author must pay Crusader $5 million. Fields argued that the entirety of the jury's verdict also awarded $8.5 million to Cussler, but Shook rejected that theory and tacked on $514,237 in litigation costs.

With Monday's award and Cussler's own legal fees — said to hover around $8.5 million — Cussler could be on the hook for more than $28 million.

Anschutz attorney Marvin Putnam said his law firm has billed about $18 million to litigate the case.

"What's great about this is that our client said they're not going to be subject to highway robbery, and they not only won but got their defense costs paid," he said.

"Sahara" grossed $68.7 million at the domestic boxoffice but lost more than $80 million when all costs were tallied. (partialdiff)
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