April 18, 2012 5:00am PT by Alex Ben Block
Nicollette Sheridan, ABC Back in Court as Judge Considers Retrial of 'Housewives' Case
Nicollette Sheridan is expected back in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday to argue that her legal case against ABC/Disney for dropping her from Desperate Housewives should be retried after a jury failed to reach a verdict last month. Sheridan also is expected to ask the judge for $35,000 in sanctions against the defense lawyers for their conduct in the case.
Sheridan's three-week trial on her wrongful-termination claim ended in a hung jury March 16. Sheridan’s lawyers, Mark Baute and Patrick Maloney, say they want to retry the case and have cited several instances where they say the defense lawyers were out of order.
For instance, they say that on six occasions the defense team said Sheridan had failed to properly complain about an incident in October 2010 when showrunner Marc Cherry struck her in the head after a rehearsal, even though the judge had ruled that her call to an executive producer who was charged with handling such complaints was sufficient.
Judge Elizabeth Allen White already has signaled that it is extremely unlikely she will grant ABC attorneys Adam Levin and Aaron Wais’ motion for a directed verdict in favor of ABC, which would immediately end the trial phase of the case.
Sheridan and her legal team are hoping the judge will set a date Wednesday for a retrial. If the judge does, she could do it on an expedited basis, which would mean a trial could occur as soon as six weeks from now; or the judge could tell both sides to wait for an opening on the increasingly crowded Superior Court calendar, which could mean six months or more before it is retried.
The case, initially filed as a $20 million lawsuit with multiple claims, was whittled down to the single charge that Sheridan was fired in essence because Cherry was taking revenge for her being vocal about the 2010 incident. Cherry is no longer a defendant, but his conduct would continue to be the center of debate in a retrial of the claim.
During the trial, Sheridan testified that Cherry hit her hard in the head out of his frustration because she was unhappy he had eliminated a line in the script that got her a laugh. Cherry insisted that he just tapped Sheridan’s head to show her a bit of physical business he wanted her to use instead of the dialogue.
The court also had limited what Sheridan could win to one season’s pay, which would be based on the sixth season of the show. With interest, that would be about $5.7 million. There is still a small possibility that there could also be punitive damages in addition to the salary.
Although ABC put about a dozen witnesses on the stand who said the decision to eliminate Sheridan’s character was made nearly five months before the October 2010 incident, a majority of the jury still sided with the actress. The vote was 8 to 4 in her favor. In a civil trial, it would have taken only 9 jurors to win the case, but the jury members was adamant that they were deadlocked.
Under budget cuts being forced on the court by the state of California, the number of judges and courtrooms available in the Superior Court system will be reduced in June, which is expected to make all cases take longer to reach trial.
Could there be an out-of-court settlement? During the high-profile trial, Baute said repeatedly that Disney has a policy of not settling cases like this, which is how it got to a trial in the first place. However, it is unclear if facing a retrial that would remain the ABC/Disney policy.