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Thanks to a new ruling in Los Angeles Superior Court, tobacco magnate and Philadelphia Phillies owner John S. Middleton will have to give sworn testimony about his son’s drinking habits. The unusual decision comes in the midst of a nasty legal fight between John P. Middleton and former business partner Roy Lee, the veteran producer of It, The Departed and The Lego Movie.
Since 2019, Middleton Jr. and Lee have been in court over the disintegration of their partnership. Middleton alleges that Lee took advantage of his largesse and got accustomed to perks including courtside seats, private jet trips and overnight stays at an oceanfront mansion. He now alleges being owed money and credits. Lee, meanwhile, has responded with his own claims that are premised on the notion that Middleton held himself out as a stable partner who would provide regular investment and actually show up for work. Instead, Lee contends, Middleton really just pursued a glamorous Hollywood lifestyle to rub shoulders with famous movie stars and executives.
The case is at the discovery phase where L.A. Superior Court Judge Kevin Brazile recently had to decide whether to let Lee’s camp depose Middleton Sr. on the topic of his knowledge about the son’s alleged alcoholism.
In response, Middleton’s attorneys argued that this was really an “attempt to shame Middleton into acquiescing to an unfavorable settlement or dropping his claims altogether,” “designed solely to embarrass John P. Middleton and drive a wedge between him and his father,” and that it all violated privacy principles.
Brazile, however, deems the testimony to be relevant.
“Lee alleges that Middleton induced him to extend their agreement in part by promising to stop drinking, as Middleton’s alleged drinking problems and incidents were a significant part of the reputational damage Lee claims to have suffered,” writes the judge. “Middleton’s point that he ‘did not make any promise regarding his sobriety in the Agreement’ is not compelling, as there is no ambiguity that the fraud claim is based on an alleged oral misrepresentation regarding his intent to continue drinking, which was allegedly made to induce the execution of the extension of the agreement — that the extension does not mention alcohol is consistent with the allegations.”
The judge also takes up the issue of whether drinking is a “personal” decision and that alcoholism is a “disease” that should play no role in the dispute at hand.
“[T]he Court is unaware of any authority that testimony by non-medical personnel (here, Middleton’s father) regarding drinking habits constitutes medical information,” states the ruling, which also adds that Middleton has not shown a reasonable expectation of privacy “as the alleged impacts of his drinking on public and professional matters undermines the expectation that the matters would remain private.”
The judge does, though, limit the scope of the deposition to a discussion of what occurred in 2013.
That was the year, according to Lee’s cross-complaint, that the two were on a yacht near the Cannes Film Festival. Allegedly, three days into a two-week trip, Middleton got black-out drunk after a night out with close friends of Leonardo DiCaprio. Middleton is said to have burst into a hysterical fit and started crying after stumbling through a glass door. Lee says he feared Middleton might fall off the yacht. Lee subsequently contacted Middleton’s “sober coach” to discuss the situation, and this individual got in touch with Middleton’s father. The elder Middleton then requested that Lee fly to Boston on a chartered jet to immediately check Middleton into a rehabilitation facility, continue the court documents. Lee says he complied but also communicated to the father that he’d terminate the relationship should the son fail to change his lifestyle.
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