July 12, 2013 8:36am PT by Eriq Gardner
Kardashians' Ex-Stepmom Claims Family's Reality TV Show Defamed Her
Ellen Pearson, the former wife of the late Robert Kardashian, is readying counterclaims alleging defamation in a battle over the use of family property including a diary and family photos.
In April, the Kardashian family, including Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, sued Pearson for holding onto her ex-husband's possessions despite word that the father -- an attorney who became nationally known as a member of O.J. Simpson's criminal defense dream team -- bequeathed the "bulk of his personal tangible and intangible property" to his four children, including Robert Kardashian Jr.
What made the case intriguing was the claim that the senior Kardashian's diary and the photos were protected by copyright, and that by allegedly licensing portions to Bauer Publishing, owner of In Touch and Life & Style, for stories about the family's private life, Pearson had committed infringement.
The lawsuit also alleged that Pearson was "stopped from now claiming any ownership interest" because she failed to disclose the items in a bankruptcy, but that's not stopping her attorney from attempting to bring showy counterclaims against the Kardashian clan. According to a draft of the proposed papers -- a judge still needs to give Pearson a green light -- the family's legal attack had a particular purpose: "There can be no question that the Kardashians worked with the Production Company to craft and fully script the filing of the lawsuit and service of the summons as a sensational and dramatic scene for Season 8, Episode 2 of 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians'."
We've seen many reality shows become the subject of litigation. Can it work the other way?
Pearson, represented by attorney Marcus Lee, proposes to sue the Kardashians for defamation, public disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil harassment.
She might or might not have licensed Robert Kardashian's story, so it could become the basis of articles like one in In Touch magazine titled "The Secret Kardashian Diaries," but her counterclaim says that the Kardashians participate in a reality show whose success is "predicated entirely on the revelation of private information of the most salacious nature, the degree and nature of which must continue to escalate in order to maintain public interest."
Pearson brings up an episode that aired last month of Keeping up with the Kardashians titled "Enough is Enough" that evidently featured someone known as "Jake the Private Investigator."
In real life, Pearson says that Jake offered her, through texts, "damaging information" about Kris Jenner, Robert's first wife and mother of the Kardashian sisters. The information was said to be for sale, and when Ellen allegedly refused to engage, Jake threatened to turn the information over to the rest of the family.
"After the failed attempt to entrap Ellen into the drama of their scripted 'reality' television production, the Kardashians are left to air what little information they have," says the counterclaim. "The relevant scenes in the episode are filmed and edited in such a way to appear as if it is the first time that Kimberly and Khloe are meeting with Jake to discuss Ellen."
And so, the information revealed is allegedly a wrongful portrayal.
As one example, "In the episode, the Kardashians repeatedly attribute highly incendiary and provocative statements about Kris Jenner's fitness as a mother to Ellen when they were in fact made by Robert Kardashian about his ex-wife and their mother."
Pearson goes on to say that the episode in question was "crafted" as "damage control," in light of the details that had emerged from Robert's diaries. In the counterclaim, she attempts to showcase herself as being the loving one by Robert's deathbed while the rest of the family was out partying. She speaks about the "litany of defamatory statements" about her in the episode and then goes beyond the four corners of the television screen by talking about how the Kardashian sisters allegedly tweeted additional defamatory statements to their millions of followers.
The counterclaim figures to bring a pretty robust response from the Kardashians, represented by Martin Singer at Lavely & Singer.
Although there's never been anything quite like this, in past lawsuits over reality shows like VH1's Basketball Wives, judges have held that such programming is constitutionally-protected free speech for the purpose of California's anti-SLAPP statute, which is designed not only to safeguard speech from frivolous litigation, but also the right to petition. Pearson claims an "exploitation of the judicial process to promote" Keeping up with the Kardashians, but also makes sure to put quotation marks around "reality" television.
This should make for the latest provocative chapter in Kardashians' legal life, which in the past has also included subjects like Twitter defamation, look-alikes in advertising, social media-influenced brand sponsorships and the interaction between product placement pitches and trademark confusion. Robert Kardashian has spawned a lot of work for other lawyers.