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Hollywood Docket: 'Storage Wars' Rigging; Disney's Legal Bill; 'Ricky Bobby' Saloon

Entertainment law news, including CNN correspondent Arwa Damon's apology for a biting incident.

Storage Wars David Hester Key Art - H 2012
A&E Network
"Storage Wars'' star David Hester

Storage Wars star David Hester’s lawsuit against A&E is over.

Hester has withdrawn the lawsuit he filed in 2012 alleging that the show is rigged and that he was wrongfully terminated, and a judge ruled the case was completed on July 30.

There seem to be no hard feelings between the star and the network: Hester is set to return to the high-rated reality series on Aug. 12.

The show features castmembers competing at auctions to buy the contents of storage lockers after only a few minutes' inspection. In his complaint, Hester claimed A&E had manipulated the auctions by "salting" some of the lockers with items of valuable memorabilia. He argued this was a violation of the Communications Act of 1934, which "makes it illegal for broadcasters to rig a contest of intellectual skill with the intent to deceive the viewing public."

He alleged his contract was terminated after he complained to the show's producers about the "salting."

His complaint noted that "many viewers have questioned whether the valuable items are planted in the units for dramatic effect." A&E had responded with a press release stating, "There is no staging involved. The items uncovered in the storage units are the actual items featured on the show," which Hester claimed was deceitful.

The hidden "salting" had harmed his business and reputation, he alleged— he is a professional re-seller of storage lockers' contents — and claimed unfair business practices.

The lawsuit suffered a setback when a judge shot down that claim in March 2013. Storage Wars is constitutionally protected free speech, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson ruled, not the kind of commercial speech covered by unfair competition regulations. Hester was ordered to pay $122,692 in attorneys’ fees. Months later, however, Johnson ruled the network's decision to terminate Hester was not covered by the First Amendment and permitted Hester's wrongful termination claim. The parties have worked through their differences.

In other entertainment law news:

  • A judge had some harsh words for the Walt Disney Company regarding the attorneys' fees Disney requested after it defeated Stan Lee Media in a copyright lawsuit last year. U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez deemed Disney's request of $461,882 to be "grossly excessive," continuing, "It shocks the Court's conscience that Defendants would bill almost half a million dollars, or 900 hours, on a case with minimal discovery that was resolved on a motion to dismiss." The case was one in a long series of unsuccessful efforts by the Stan Lee-founded company to reclaim copyright for franchises it lost in its 2001 bankruptcy, including X-Men and Spider-Man. Martinez ruled that it wasn’t distinct from cases decided against SLM in New York and California — and finding SLM's action to be frivolous, the judge granted Disney half of the fees requested, $239,941.
  • The CNN correspondent being sued for allegedly biting two employees of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has apologized in an email to the Embassy staff. Arwa Damon, who was allegedly intoxicated and lashed out at Charles Simons and Tracy Lamar on July 19, wrote, "I was exhausted, I had not had proper food all day and clearly miscalculated how my body would handle the alcohol consumed. Needless to say, I am utterly mortified and take full responsibility for my actions, which are inexcusable." Simons and Lamar have sued Damon and CNN for $1 million. In their complaint, filed in New York Supreme Court on Monday, they claim she was "seriously intoxicated" and "unruly and violent" when they tried to restrain her and that she has a "history of and penchant for violence even when sober."
  • Lenny Kravitz has sued for the trademark rights to his own name. He claims that a licensing agreement with music merchandiser Cinder Block expired in March 2013, but that the merchandiser continued to use the name "Lenny Kravitz" on products. His complaint, filed in a New York U.S. District Court in August, also alleges that Cinder Block CEO Jason Greene threatened litigation against him, his manager, and any new merchandising company he might want to sign with for his upcoming tour. The musician has booked international dates in October through December to promote his upcoming record, Strut.
  • A Fort Worth restaurant will no longer pay homage to a Will Ferrell character after settling a trademark lawsuit with Sony and Columbia. Ricky Bobby Sports Saloon & Restaurant, designed around Ferrell's racecar driver character from 2006's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, has been renamed the Pole Position Sports Saloon & Restaurant. Its owner, the nightclub operator Rick’s Cabaret International, will pay Columbia $20,000, and the restaurant will remove references to Talladega Nights, which include a sign that reads “If you ain’t first …" and waitresses referred to as "Smokin’ Hotties."

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