March 19, 2012 7:14pm PT by Alex Ben Block
'Desperate Housewives' Jurors Shed Light on Mistrial (Analysis)
Nicollette Sheridan’s wrongful termination lawsuit against ABC ended in a mistrial Monday, so she won’t be getting the $5.7 million in Desperate Housewives back pay she sought. But as her outspoken attorney Mark Baute pointed out, “she got her message out.”
Indeed she did, and the jury seemed to believe her over her former employers.
Throughout the two-week trial over whether Sheridan was fired as retaliaiton for complaining about being hit by series executive producer Marc Cherry, Sheridan came off as someone who stood proud against a large corporation. Although the evidence and list of witnesses seemed to be overwhelmingly in favor of ABC and Cherry, eight of the 12 jurors sided with her, not them.
In interviews after the mistrial was announced Monday by Judge Elizabeth Allen White, two jurors (both of whom seemed sympathetic to Sheridan but did not announce how they voted) said they were skeptical of some witness testimony. And the jurors, Beverly Crosby and Johnny Huynh, both said the case came down to the credibility of the witnesses. “There were a lot of people the jurors found not credible,” said Crosby.
Crosby also said she questioned how the investigation into Sheridan's claim of abuse was handled by ABC.
“In my estimation,” ABC’s inquiry “wasn’t handled correctly….I won’t say there was a cover up. That’s a strong word, but it wasn’t handled right,” she said.
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Huynh said the jury voted 8-4 at the outset of deliberations and did not waver throughout three days of considering the evidence. According to Crosby and Huynh, much of the jury’s debate centered on the testimony of George Perkins, a Housewives executive producer whom employees were told to call if they felt their rights had been violated. Sheridan contacted Perkins the day after Cherry struck her in the head in Sept. 2008.
Perkins testified that when Cherry brought Sheridan back for the final episode of season five – weeks after she was told to clear out – it was not a creative necessity but rather to embarrass her in the hope that she would not show up and breach her contract. That testimony reinforced Sheridan’s message that she had been a victim of retaliation when her character was written out of the show. Retaliation, said Crosby, is “very subtle. It’s something that may be hard to prove."
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Still, as Crosby put it, “there was no smoking gun” to prove either side's case with absolute certainty.
And that might have been ABC's problem. While ABC attorney Adam Levin said Monday that he had done his job by winnowing down the original $20 million case's claims of ageism, sexism battery, all of which have been tossed by the judge, his hard-nosed approach seems to have left jurors with a bad taste in their mouths—especially since Sheridan is a well-known celebrity. And ABC never had the "smoking gun" evidence to prove the case was bogus.
Levin and ABC likely are wondering why they didn't pay Sheridan to settle the case, a decision that would have cost the Disney conglomerate a relatively small amount of money. (The mistrial comes on the same day Disney announced a $200 million loss on its film division's flop John Carter.)
But ABC has sent its own message to Hollywood: It won't settle these kinds of claims. Baute and Levin both said Monday that the Sheridan case will be retried sometime in the coming months, no doubt at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional attorneys fees.