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Considering the lack of courtroom success that Hollywood studios have had lately, perhaps the best legal strategy is to hide.
Consider Polestar Entertainment, a film production company that has just escaped a $700,000 default judgment for allegedly defrauding a man who invested in a sequel to the 1969 cult fave “Easy Rider.” The company was able to get out of the penalty on the grounds — get this — that it didn’t know a trial was going on. A Missouri appeals court has ruled that the court award was a violation of the defendants’ due process rights.
The decision marks the latest strange turn on the road to creating an “Easy Rider” sequel.
The plaintiff in the case was the estate of Al Kerth III, perhaps most infamous in Hollywood for helping relocate the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis. In 1999, Kerth invested $125,000 with Polestar, run by Glenn Tobias, for a planned sequel to “Easy Rider.”
Tobias ran into problems and had his assets foreclosed, including rights to the franchise.
Kerth committed suicide in 2002, and in sorting his affairs, lawyers for the estate discovered the agreement. In 2004, the estate filed a lawsuit against Tobias and two of his companies, Polestar and Besdine Management Company, alleging fraud and breach of contract.
Tobias hired a lawyer to represent him, but the counsel withdrew from the case. At the time, Tobias was dealing with other lawsuits in California, Taiwan, Europe and the Bahamas and decided to give priority to those other lawsuits. He didn’t hire a replacement to his Missouri counsel.
Meanwhile, the plaintiff moved to have the case put on the trial docket, and a judge set trial for July 9, 2007. The plaintiff, though, never mailed notice of the trial setting to the defendants. At the trial, the Kerth estate presented its evidence, and the trial court entered a judgment of $188,000 in compensatory damages, $135,360 in pre-judgement interest, and $376,000 in punitive damages.
According to the decision by the Missouri appeals court, reviewing the lower court’s awarded judgment, a year and a half passed before Tobias learned from his attorney in California that a collection proceeding had initiated. He then filed a motion to set aside the verdict. And…he won.
So what happened to that sequel to “Easy Rider”?
The man who seized the assets of Tobias sold the rights to a group that included Philip Pitzer, a lawyer from Ohio who wanted to fulfill his life-long dream of making the sequel. It took some doing on his part.
The film was going to be called “Easy Rider: The Search Continues” and was going to include clips from the original film. According to a story three years ago in the NY Times, the plan went haywire when Pitzer found out they didn’t really acquire rights to the old clips. Pitzer sued in Santa Monica Superior Court, claiming fraud and deceit in the sale of the sequel rights.
Kerth/Tobias failed to make the film (and let’s not forget the “Easy Rider: A.D.” attempt either), but Pitzer was finally able to pull it off. It was called “Easy Rider: The Ride Back” and we can hardly blame anyone for missing it.
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