Hollywood Docket: Nancy Grace Settles Slander Lawsuit, Admits Incorrect Reporting

A roundup of the week's entertainment law news, including competing David Hasselhoff documentaries and a Comcast settlement
Amy Graves
Nancy Grace

Nancy Grace has settled a lawsuit in which she was accused of slandering Michael Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy who has been suspected in the murder of a 15-year-old girl.

Skakel was convicted in 2002 for the 1975 killing of Martha Moxley, but after spending 11 years in prison, he was freed a year ago for a possible retrial.

Read more Hollywood Docket: Don Henley Sues; T Rex Bangs; Wyclef Jean Wins

In a segment of her HLN show following a January 2012 hearing on his conviction, Grace spoke with legal commentator Beth Karas about the case. They discussed in no uncertain terms whether Skakel's DNA had been found at the crime scene.

"Isn't it true that the Kennedy cousin apparently was up in a tree masturbating, trying to look into [Moxley's] bedroom window?" Grace asked.

"His DNA was found, yes... up in the tree," Karas said.

"Beth, I love the way you put it so delicately," Grace responded. "'His DNA,' you know, it was sperm. There, I said it. So, he places himself there up in a tree masturbating looking down at her window, and, whoa, she [Moxley] turns up dead within a couple of hours."

There'd been no discussion in Skakel’s 2002 trial of whether his DNA was at the crime scene. He sued Grace, Karas and Time Warner Inc. (which owns HLN), claiming that Grace and Karas' comments had hurt his reputation and hurt his chances of receiving a fair retrial.

The defendants tried to have the case dismissed earlier this year. They held that their statements had been "substantially true," if not totally verifiable. The argument wasn't enough for Connecticut federal judge Vanessa Bryant, who ruled in March that the untrue details in Karas and Grace's comments warranted a lawsuit.

It’s now come to a settlement, which included a statement posted on the website of Grace's HLN show that she had reported erroneously on whether DNA evidence was found linking Skakel to the crime scene. In addition, all mentions of Grace and Karas' comments were removed from Turner Broadcasting Company websites. The statement's monetary terms were not disclosed. 

In other entertainment law news...

  • The filmmakers of a documentary on David Hasselhoff’s Berlin Wall activism can’t hassle the National Geographic for hiring the star to a similar film, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled on Wednesday. OWLS Media claim in a July lawsuit that it engaged Hasselhoff to participate in a "unique" documentary centered on his fight to bring down the wall and the influence of his song "Looking for Freedom" on the divided Berlin. The documentary’s marketability was "destroyed," OWLS claims, when the Hoff lent his story to Nat Geo’s similarly themed Hasselhoff vs. The Berlin Wall, which aired in September.
    Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that OWLS’ claims against Nat Geo and its documentary’s production company, Darlow Smithson, were barred by California’s anti-SLAPP statute, a law that defends First Amendment-protected speech against frivolous legal action. However, the filmmakers' claims against Hasselhoff and manager Eric Gardner, which include breach of an agreement and fraudulent concealment, remain in play.
  • A federal judge has set new damages to be paid by Michael Robertson in the copyright infringement case against him and his music-sharing websites MP3Tunes.com and Sideload.com. The claims were filed against Robertson in 2007 by Capitol Records, EMI and other record companies and music publishers, which argued that the site's system of allowing users to load music from third-party sites to storage lockers infringed on their copyrighted recordings. A jury in March awarded the record companies $48 million in damages — but in September, U.S. District Judge William Pauley issued a revised ruling in which he argued the jury had ruled in error because "their assignment was beyond all reasonable scale." He cut the punitive damages from $7.5 million to $750,000 and reduced other judgments against Robertson and his websites, giving the plaintiffs a few weeks to propose a new breakdown of other damages. His ruling Thursday demands $12.2 million from Robertson himself and $11.1 million from MP3Tunes.
  • Comcast has reached a $50-million settlement to end a long-running class-action lawsuit in which it was accused of monopolizing the Philadelphia cable market. The cable giant was sued in 2003 for pursuing a strategy known as "clustering," in which it would acquire subscribers in Philadelphia from other cable providers in exchange for subscribers outside the region. The plaintiff’s proposed class action cited four ways in which the practice was harmful, three of which didn’t make it past lower courts. The fourth was tried in March 2013 before the Supreme Court, which narrowly ruled the class action had not been properly certified.
    The plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint in response, but Comcast has now decided to end the case, Reuters reports. The settlement, which was reached Wednesday and is awaiting the court’s approval, will include $16.67 million for current and former subscribers in Philly and four surrounding counties — but since the class is estimated to include 800,000 plaintiffs, that’s hardly $20 each. The current subscribers will receive an additional $33.33 million in services, such as a $15 bill credit, internet upgrades or free video rentals. Comcast continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Nov. 3, 12:25 p.m. An earlier version of this story used a quote from Judge Bryant that was likely a misstatement by the judge. The quote has been removed.  

Email: Austin.Siegemund-Broka@THR.com
Twitter: @Asiegemundbroka

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