'Desperate Housewives' Trial: Judge Likely Will Allow Surprise Witness to Testify

5:45 PM PST 03/12/2012 by Alex Ben Block
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Nicollette Sheridan's lawyer says a construction coordinator from the ABC series will appear Tuesday if he can be located and taken to court on time.

A surprise witness likely will be allowed to testify in the Nicollette Sheridan trial, if he can be found and gotten to court Tuesday. Sheridan’s lawyer, Mark Baute, says the witness told him ABC instructed its IT department to wipe e-mails and other information about the killing of Sheridan's Desperate Housewives character Edie Britt from all of the producer’s computer hard drives around the time the actress filed her lawsuit.

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The existence of the witness, who was revealed in open court Monday to be Michael Reinhart, a construction coordinator on the show, was a surprise from Baute. The attorney has alleged that ABC, Disney and series creator Marc Cherry conspired to cover up the real reason his client was forced off Housewives in 2009.

Baute said Reinhart sent him an e-mail that suggests the network’s IT department got that request. He says the employee told him: “I received an e-mail soon after Nicollette filed suit. I think it was meant for much narrower distribution, but it regarded having IT come in and wipe clean the hard drives of the producers in response to the correspondence that they’ve had e-mail-wise about firing Nicollette.”

It is a basic tenet of law that when a suit is filed, everyone involved has an obligation to keep and maintain all records, e-mails and correspondence that might in any way reflect on the case. If ABC did have its IT department delete e-mails, it would raise serious legal issues and could influence the jury.

Judge Elizabeth Allen White is expected to interview Reinhart if he is brought to court by Sheridan’s lawyers without the jury present.

Baute had said the surprise witness avoided being served with a subpoena at first and told him, “I really don’t want to get involved,” but obviously Sheridan’s lawyer has not agreed to that. The question is whether he can find Reinhart and get him to court in time.

Current and former ABC and Housewives executives and producers have testified that the decision to kill off Edie Britt was made before an incident on Sept. 24, 2008, when Cherry struck Sheridan in the head. But Baute has said again and again that they are all lying as part of a cover-up by the network and are being aided by people who want to protect their jobs and careers.

Cherry and ABC’s lawyer, Adam Levin, have denied that assertion and asked some witnesses questions designed to refute Baute’s conspiracy theory.

Said Levin: “We've presented a number of different witnesses all testifying that the decision to kill Edie Britt was made long before September 2008. Today's antics by the plaintiff, conjuring up mysterious e-mails, appear to be a last-ditch effort save to her case. At the eleventh hour, we saw the plaintiff handing out transcripts, and it all seemed very orchestrated.”

The judge also polled the jury Monday about the case running at least one day longer than anticipated. The summation by the attorneys is likely to begin Tuesday afternoon and run into Wednesday. Each side has been allocated two hours to sum up their case before it goes to the jury.

Separately, ABC said Monday that Housewives will end its eight-year run with a two-hour finale Sunday, May 13.

Meanwhile, actor James Denton -- who testified Friday and whose character, Mike Delfino, was murdered at the end of the Housewives episode that aired Sunday -- told TV's Extra that his brief testimony in the case was a “brutal” experience for him.

He said that when asked in court if he thought producers might kill off his character, and he replied “always,” he already knew his character would die Sunday. The episode was shot well in advance of his testimony.

On ABC's The View on Monday, Denton said he had worried for a long time about being written out, saying, “We made it to the end, and then, pop!”

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