Hollywood Docket: Jury Chosen in Aurora Theater Shooting Civil Trial; 'xXx' Sequel Sparks a Lawsuit

A roundup of entertainment law news, including a temporary victory for Comcast in a discrmination lawsuit and MGM's new general counsel.
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The shooter behind the 2012 The Dark Knight Rises tragedy in Aurora, Colo., is behind bars for life and, nearly four years later, a jury will soon decide what role the theater played in the massacre.

Families of the victims are suing Cinemark, the company that owns the Century 16 theater where the attack happened, claiming a lack of security during the midnight premiere facilitated the shooting.

Before the film started, the shooter, James Holmes, exited the theater through a side door that he then propped open. After arming himself with tear gas and an arsenal of weapons in the parking lot, he returned through the same door where he fired on the crowd, killing 12 people and injuring 70 more. The lawsuit claims the theater's lack of security aided him in the attack.

The jury was selected Monday, and the trial is expected to last three weeks.

A related federal personal injury and wrongful death case is scheduled for trial in July.

"Upon information and belief Defendant did not have in place any security practices or procedures, nor did it employ or adequately train any employee or security personnel to prevent or deter someone to surreptitiously and unlawfully re-enter the theater through an unlocked and unalarmed door," states the federal complaint. "No security personnel and no employee intervened during the entirety of the incident. The gunman simply walked back out of the theater through the same door he used to enter, and sat in his car."

The federal lawsuit also claims no theater personnel tried to help the victims while they were waiting for law enforcement to arrive.

"During the entirety of that time, the movie continued playing, and the house lights remained very low or off," states the complaint. "At no time during the entirety of this incident was there any action taken by theater personnel to assist or evacuate those who were injured by the gunman."

In August, Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without parole after a jury did not unanimously vote for the death penalty.

In other entertainment legal news:

— The legal battle over the upcoming Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick film The Accountant has been resolved. PalmStar Media Capital in 2014 sued Zero Gravity Management, its principal, Mark Williams, and producer Lynette Howell, claiming they cut the independent production company out of the project. PalmStar's attorney Bryan Freedman didn't disclose the terms of the deal, but tells The Hollywood Reporter, "The dispute was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties."

— Carmike Cinemas, its board of directors and AMC Entertainment are facing a class-action lawsuit from a stockholder. Ray Baskette sued Tuesday in Georgia Federal court, claiming Carmike and AMC structured their merger agreement "to subvert the interests of Plaintiff and the other public stockholders." Baskette claims the merger agreement was designed to shut out competing bidders by including a strict no-solicitation provision, another provision that gives AMC time to match any competing proposal and a $30 million termination fee if Carmike were to back out of the deal.

— A producer of the 2002 action film xXx is suing Vin Diesel, claiming he was shut out of the upcoming sequel. George Zakk claims he helped Diesel launch his career and the two agreed Zakk would receive credit and a producer fee on any project the two worked on together through Diesel's One Race Films. Their business relationship ended in 2007, but Zakk claims he's entitled to the same credit and fee on sequels of any of the films he helped create. Zakk claims Diesel held up his end of the bargain for Riddick in 2013, but not for the upcoming xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Zakk is suing for a $275,000 fee and executive producer credit as well as damages. 

— Comcast has temporarily dodged a discrimination lawsuit. U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. on Tuesday dismissed the suit brought by Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks, but is giving Allen "one last time" to amend his complaint. Allen alleges, when it comes to carriage agreements, the cable giant has "a separate, but not equal, process for African-American-owned channels." Comcast argues it has legitimate business reasons for denying ESN carriage, and Hatter says Allen hasn't pled sufficient facts to prove that isn't the case. 

— Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has appointed Lesley Freeman as its chief legal officer, according to a Monday announcement. Freeman comes from HBO, where she spent nearly a decade and most recently served as senior vp legal affairs. In her new role, she will oversee all legal matters on behalf of MGM. “Lesley is a consummate professional who is well respected in the legal community and has a deep understanding of the issues surrounding our ever-evolving industry,” said CEO Gary Barber. “We are thrilled to have her join the team and help continue the growth of MGM.” Freeman replaces Scott Packman, who will step down in August to pursue other opportunities, according to the statement. 

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