12:17pm PT by Alex Ben Block
'Desperate Housewives' Trial: Judge Dismisses Battery Claim; Marc Cherry No Longer a Defendant
An important portion of Nicollette Sheridan’s case against ABC and Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry was dismissed by the judge Tuesday morning as part of a discussion about instructions to the jury.
L.A. Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White issued a directed verdict dismissing the battery claim in the case, meaning Cherry -- whom Sheridan says struck her in the head on the set of the show in September 2008 -- is no longer a defendant.
Sheridan’s attorneys clearly were unhappy about the judge’s action, but lead lawyer Mark Baute said the move doesn’t really matter. The jury still will be asked to rule on the question of whether ABC's decision to kill off Sheridan's Edie Britt character was retaliation that rises to the level of wrongful termination.
The judge said Sheridan's claims did not meet the standard to proof for battery. Cherry hit Sheridan during a rehearsal on Sept. 24, 2008, in an altercation that was described by both parties during testimony in the two-week trial.
Cherry appeared in the hall outside the courtroom after the ruling and spoke to the media for the first time, making only a brief statement: “Obviously I’m thrilled by the judge's decision. But I’m going to withhold further comment until this matter is resolved completely.”
Earlier on Tuesday -- despite strenuous protests from the attorney for Cherry and ABC -- the judge allowed a surprise witness to testify that he saw an e-mail in fall 2010 that said ABC and Disney planned to delete all e-mails relating to Sheridan and the killing of her character from the computer hard drives of show producers.
Michael Reinhart, a construction coordinator on Housewives for all eight seasons, said he was "disturbed" by the e-mail but immediately deleted it and tried to forget about it. But he said that proved impossible; after sleepless nights, he said he felt he had to come forward before the trial ended and tell Sheridan’s legal team what he had seen and remembered.
During a preliminary discussion before the jury was brought in, Reinhart was asked why he chose to come forward. "To possibly equalize an inequity I felt because of what I perceived was in the email," he said.
Under questioning by Adam Levin, lead attorney for Cherry and ABC, Reinhart said he could not recall the exact words in the e-mail, except that it included "delete," "hard drive" and "producers."
Levin tried to suggest it could have been an e-mail about preserving documents, but Reinhart said he didn't remember it saying anything about preserving.
Levin asked if it was possible he had misunderstood the contents of the e-mail, and Reinhart said, "Yes, it is possible I misunderstood it."
Reinhart said he told Sheridan attorney Marc Baute when he called him Sunday that he did not want to be involved or testify. When asked why, he said, "I expressed my strong reluctance to get involved because of the professional ramifications on my career."
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In his first hearing before Judge White, Reinhart said he felt he was committing "professional suicide" that would not only impact his ability to get jobs but also those of his crew, and thus his testimony would negatively impact their families as well.
Reinhart agreed to turn over his computer to the defense so they can do a forensic examination to see if they can find the e-mail he said he received, even though he said he deleted it then killed it out of the system.
Closing arguments are expected to begin Tuesday afternoon and run into Wednesday. Each side has been allocated two hours to sum up their case before it goes to the jury.