July 27, 2011 12:33pm PT by Alex Ben Block
Judge: Publicist Lawsuit Against Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Can Move Forward
Publicist Michael Russell’s lawsuit against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and its former president Phillip Berk can go forward, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled.
HFPA, which puts on the annual Golden Globe Awards, had used Russell as its publicist for 17 years until it chose not to renew his contract more than a year ago. Lawsuits followed the falling out.
On Wednesday, Judge Kevin C. Brazile denied the HFPA and Berk's attempt to have the case tossed at a preliminary stage. Russell claims breach of contract other causes of action.
The judge did throw out two claims in the Russell suit – wrongful termination and fraud. He gave Russell 20 days to amend his suit to better make the case on those issues, after which Brazile could rule to include them again.
Separately, the same judge ruled that the charity Stars For A Cause can also proceed with its defamation lawsuit against the HFPA and Berk. The two cases are related because Stars also claims the HFPA interfered with its business.
There are likely to be additional motions for summary judgment in both cases. Failing a ruling to end the cases, there will be discovery of information and a trial sometime next year.
The judge could consolidate three cases into one for the trial – Russell’s suit against the HFPA, HFPA’s suit against Russell and the case brought by Stars For A Cause and its president George Bruanstein.
The cases are now heading toward a jury trial,” says James Ramsey, an attorney for Stars and Russell. “Contrary to the statements by the HFPA’s representatives, the judge’s ruling clearly shows that there is both a legal basis and sufficient evidence for the claims to proceed to trial. MRG and the other plaintiffs look forward to their day in court and the opportunity to vindicate their names and reputations.”
Joe Campo, an attorney for the HFPA said in a statement: "Judge Kevin Brazile...considered a Demurrer to the Complaint filed against the HFPA and Phil Berk by Cinepoint, Michael Russell, and Stephen LoCascio as well as a Motion to Strike the claims brought by George Braunstein and Stars for a Cause. In the first motion, the claim for wrongful termination was dismissed, and the fraud cause of action was deemed to have insufficient factual basis, although the court allowed them the opportunity to amend.
"On the second matter, the Court struck the intentional interference with contract and prospective economic advantage causes of action, while finding that the defamation claim has 'minimal merit.' While we did not expect the Court to dismiss either Complaint in its entirety at this early stage, we were satisfied with Judge Brazile's rejection of several theories against the HFPA and Mr. Berk and look forward to addressing the weaknesses of the remaining claims by motion for summary judgment after all the evidence is assembled through discovery and depositions."