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It’s been nearly a decade since Corey Clark was disqualified as a contestant on American Idol after it was revealed that he had been arrested over an incident that involved his younger sister and a few police officers. He was booted from the Fox show because producers said he hadn’t disclosed his arrest record when joining the competition. He later became known for claiming to have had an affair with then-Idol judge Paula Abdul.
Last week, Clark was in the news as one of nine Idol contestants who filed a petition at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requesting permission to sue the program’s producers for racial discrimination, allegedly emanating from the mistreatment of black contestants by asking about arrest history. According to the would-be plaintiffs, this violates California employment law.
But Clark has filed another lawsuit. As he waits to see whether the judicial system buys the idea that he was applying for employment on Idol, he’s also seeking redress over what has happened since he was disqualified from the contest.
In a complaint filed Friday in Tennessee federal court and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Clark is suing Fox, E! Entertainment and two powerhouse law firms — Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Morrison & Foerster — for allegedly defaming him in comments made about his exit from the show as well as the alleged affair with Abdul.
Clark’s 44-page complaint (read in full here) is heavy on the backstory — how he was arrested in October 2002 after police responded to a domestic disturbance, how the arrest (he says) was unwarranted, how he auditioned for Idol that month, how he later made the round of semi-finalists and was disqualified, how the alleged affair with Abdul went public and so forth.
Where it gets interesting — or at least, marks the crux of his allegations — is the moment in 2005 when the Abdul relationship scandal was at its height.
At the time, Clark says that a book proposal began circulating about the affair. He says that as a result, Idol‘s in-house lawyer threatened to sue him for $5 million for breaching the confidentiality portion of his agreement. Nevertheless, Clark decided to give an interview to ABC News, and the network aired a one-hour special despite allegedly hearing from Abdul’s lawyer Marty Singer, who threatened to sue.
Still, he says that the “ABC News special did not disclose the entire story behind the relationship between Abdul and Plaintiff.”
Later that summer, Fox said that it had retained “independent counsel” to conduct an investigation of the alleged Abdul affair. According to the complaint, Gibson Dunn and Morrison & Foerster were hired. The first firm is said to have done work in the past for Fox; the latter for Idol producer FremantleMedia.
“Any representation that the law firms Gibson Dunn and/or Morrison & Foerster were retained as ‘independent counsel’ by Fox is plainly misleading and conveys a false impression that the law firms had no vested or economic interest in the result of the investigation,” the lawsuit states.
By August, Fox had put out a press release that “cleared” Abdul of wrongdoing and allowed her to maintain her judge position, according to the lawsuit.
Clark says that as a result of “Fox’s sham investigative report,” he suffered “tremendous reputational damage,” that his record label stopped returning his calls, that people would spit on him in public, that he was served with an eviction notice on his home, that he began living on food stamps and that in 2006, he “reached absolute rock bottom,” constructing a rope from bed sheets and attempting to hang himself.
Clark now is objecting to defamatory statements allegedly made in the wake of this ordeal, including, he says, an episode of E! True Hollywood Story: Paula Abdul, which he says aired in January 2012 and denied an Abdul relationship with Clark.
The lawsuit figures to face huge obstacles before ever getting to a trial, and Clark’s attorney Eugenia Grayer seems to realize this, spending part of the complaint explaining why anti-SLAPP statutes aren’t applicable. Those laws are designed to shield defendants from wasting time in court on frivolous lawsuits that interfere with First Amendment rights including free speech and a right to petition.
Clark is suing for libel, false-light invasion of privacy and a third count for conspiracy to commit commercial product disparagement.
According to the complaint, “Investigators spent three and a half months reviewing materials provided by Clark and Abdul and investigating 43 people, (10 of whom were eyewitnesses to the conduct between Clark and Abdul alleged by Clark) in an effort to further disparage Clark’s name and reputation and conceal the facts and true nature of Clark’s disqualification and romantic relationship with Abdul.”
Clark previously has sued Viacom over allegedly defamatory comments from a MTV News reporter. The case is still ongoing.
Fox declined to comment until it had a chance to review the court papers. E! Entertainment also declined comment, having not seen the complaint. THR also contacted the two law firms and will update this report with any response.
E-mail: email@example.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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