January 17, 2013 6:42am PT by Eriq Gardner
'Queen of Versailles' Lawsuit Rages With Father/Son Intrigue
As the Sundance Film Festival rolls into Park City, Utah once again, a legal dispute over one of last year's hits, The Queen of Versailles, drags on.
The film by director Lauren Greenfield tells the tale of David Siegel, a time-share baron who commissioned a $75 million Florida mansion for himself before the economy went south. The film, which shows the mansion being put on the market at a fraction of the cost and Siegel's business struggling, has been described as a "rags-to-riches-to-rags story," which bothers Siegel, who is suing for defamation, even if he used pretty much those exact words himself in the film.
Last month, the parties held an evidentiary hearing with both Greenfield and Siegel testifying in court. Afterwards, both sides submitted briefs on a pressing question. Before there's any resolution over the underlying dispute over whether Queen of Versailles was defamatory or not, a judge has to decide whether the case should be resolved in arbitration. And while that might not seem to be a particularly sexy topic, at its core that issue features the question of whether Queen of Versailles was fully sanctioned.
Greenfield spent two years with the Siegel family and as anyone who has seen the lauded film can attest, she got a lot of access to Siegel and his Westgate Resorts empire. She also has a release form that stipulated that disputes would head to arbitration.
But Siegel is objecting to this release by essentially selling out his own son, Richard Siegel, who was an important figure in the film and showed Greenfield around the sales and marketing operation of Westgate.
Richard Siegel was the one to sign a release form, but his father now contends that he didn't have full authority to bind Westgate Resorts to arbitration.
The plaintiff says Richard was "employed by Westgate Marketing, LLC, which acts as the broker for Westgate Resorts...Westgate Marketing, LLC does not own any property, let alone any of the physical locations at which Richard Siegel accompanied Greenfield in shooting the Film."
According to a post-hearing memorandum filed by the plaintiff, Richard Siegel was a vice president. "However, the designation of 'vice president' is strictly honorary, unaccompanied by any of the traditional corporate authority such as a position might otherwise garner its occupant. Indeed, that title... has been bestowed upon approximately a dozen other individuals working for one of the distinct companies within the Westgate Resorts organization."
Corporate America these days is filled with all sorts of sister companies, subsidiaries and shells for accounting and tax purposes. This has become an unlikely problem for one filmmaker.
"The claim that Laura Greenfield's work was unauthorized or beyond the limits of what Westgate Resorts knew and permitted is incredible on its face," says the defendants' own memorandum. "The 'unauthorized interviews' and the 'unauthorized agreement to arbitrate' were authorized. The two series of events are inextricably intertwined. David and Richard Siegel both authorized the making of the film and the giving of the Westgate Resorts release, and hundreds of people were aware of it."
Greenfield's attorneys call it a "flat out lie" that David Siegel didn't authorize the filming or the signing of arbitration clauses. Her lawyers say that would mean that scores of Westgate Resorts employees were letting her film without the main film subject's knowledge. That includes David Siegel's son, who has given his own deposition.
"How could over 200 personal releases be signed after shooting company activities if David did not give authority -- real or apparent -- to Richard?" the defendants ask. "The content of the film is the best evidence that David is lying."
A judge's decision could come soon.
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