August 31, 2011 7:00am PT by Matthew Belloni
Charlie Sheen Arbitrator Denies Gag Order Requested By Warner Bros. (Exclusive)
Charlie Sheen’s legal battle over his firing from Two and a Half Men might end up a little more public than Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre would have liked.
The Hollywood Reporter has learned that the arbitrator overseeing the $100 million legal proceeding between Sheen, Men co-creator Lorre and Warners has denied a request for a broad gag order in the case. The media still won’t be invited to attend the arbitration, and confidential details relating to facts deemed “sensitive and proprietary” will remain private, but the parties and the lawyers will be free to discuss the case with the press as it chugs along toward a resolution.
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As we reported, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in June that the dispute over Sheen’s firing from TV’s most-watched sitcom is subject to an arbitration clause in Sheen's deal, meaning the case will play out in a private dispute-resolution forum rather than a public trial. But Justice Richard Neal, the JAMS arbitrator assigned to the case, still gets to decide how much of the proceedings should be confidential.
Sources say Warners and Lorre asked Neal to issue a sweeping order preventing any information about the proceeding from being revealed to the press. Lawyers for the studio and showrunner are said to have argued that Sheen created such a media circus around the case via his bizarre press rampage that keeping a tight lid on the arbitration was necessary and appropriate.
But in an interim order issued this month (it hasn't been signed yet but that is expected), Neal denied the request for a broad limit on talking about the case, instead narrowing the confidentiality requirements to those included in general JAMS guidelines. The parties or their lawyers will be free to discuss their opinions of the case and factual details not considered proprietary or sensitive (which would include medical records and some financial information).
The ruling is a mixed bag of sorts for Sheen. He has shown a keen interest in discussing the Warners/Lorre litigation in many media outlets, so the ruling will give him more freedom in that regard. But the judge's order will likely prevent him or his team from talking about the most sensitive financial details or potentially embarassing personal facts about Lorre.
Warners and Lorre also must be disappointed. They moved the case to arbitration in part to avoid the public spectacle that a trial involving one of Hollywood’s most famous and volatile figures would entail. Sheen is now free to talk about the case as he promotes his upcoming Comedy Central roast and his planned comeback sitcom Anger Management.
The arbitration now moves to the discovery phase, with all sides beginning to collect documents and deposition testimony to help prove their cases. Sheen argues that Warners and Lorre conspired to unlawfully terminate him from Men after he criticized Lorre in the press. Warners and Lorre, on the other hand, argue that Sheen was fired because he was unfit to perform on the show.
Sheen lawyer Marty Singer declined to comment, as did Warners attorney John Spiegel and Lorre attorney Howard Weitzman.