Angelina Jolie Stunt Double Fights to Keep Phone Hacking Lawsuit in U.S.
Eunice Huthart argues she will be "thrust into the litigation equivalent of purgatory" if forced to go to the U.K. with claims of how News Corp. tabloids dug up juicy gossip about the actress.
Eunice Huthart, who worked as a stunt double for Angelina Jolie, is telling a judge why her hacking claims against News Corp. belong in a United States courtroom.
Huthart is the first and only alleged victim to pursue a case in the country. Hundreds of others have proceeded in the U.K., where the Rupert Murdoch company has had to shell out nearly $400 million in settlement money. But Huthart's attorneys see advantages in the U.S. and are fighting to keep the case here.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald expressed an inclination to have the dispute resolved in the U.K.
"If it was just in terms of my own personal desire, I'd be quite happy to keep all of you here," said the judge at the hearing. "I notice an imminent member of the fourth estate being in the courtroom, which is not typically the case. And certainly the thought that Ms. Jolie could be a witness, I think, would certainly not be a terrible thing. All that being said, my view of the law and the facts is that it should be sent to the courts of England and Wales."
Nevertheless, the judge ordered briefing on whether Huthart could bring her claims as part of a special system set up by UK courts or though the normal civil litigation process there.
Huthart, a resident of Liverpool, has worked with Jolie on the movies Beyond Borders, Tomb Raiders 2 and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Huthart says she became so close to Jolie that she is a godmother to Jolie's first biological child and was living with the actress in a Brentwood house in 2004.
Later, she discovered her name, cell number, account number and PIN number in the notes of News of the World and its private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, and she believes that voicemail intercepts are the cause of tabloid stories about Jolie threatening to quit making movies for good and the actress' relationship to Brad Pitt.
But will she be allowed to bring claims as part of the UK's "Mobile Telephone Voicemail Interception Litigation"?
"The MTVIL remains open and will continue to be open for the foreseeable future," says News Corp. in court documents filed on Tuesday. "Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.
Huthart's lawyers dispute this.
In the plaintiff's papers, it's said that 21st Century Fox (which is picking up the tab for hacking) has waived any challenge to personal jurisdiction, but "this is a red herring: 21st Century Fox is not the real party in interest. The real party in interest is the company currently named News Corporation, which was spun-off from the original News Corporation in 2013."
Further, Huthart's attorneys point to the January 31, 2014, deadline for submitting claims under the MTVIL. This is actually "Tranche 2" of hacking claims against News Corp. The managing judge in the U.K. is said to be disinclined to extend the deadline and Huthart's attorneys say "there has been no indication that there will be a Tranche 3."
"While it is technically correct that if no MTVIL Tranche 3 is established, then Plaintiff can file suit in English Civil Court Proceedings, at best she would be thrust into the litigation equivalent of purgatory," say Huthart's court documents.
Judge Fitzgerald is then given another reason to keep the case in his courtroom. It simply won't be the same case alleging violation of the Stored Communication Act.
"Under English law, a violation exists only if the content of a communication is acquired; merely accessing, interfering with or preventing access to voicemail does not give rise to a cause of action for breach of confidence or misuse of private information," says the court documents. "Plaintiff specifically alleged that Defendants changed her PIN and thereby prevented her from accessing her voicemail while she was in the United States. Apart from the unavailability of an English forum, English law provides no remedy for, and Plaintiff cannot litigate, the subject matter of these claims."
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