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Late last month, MCSquared PR filed what it said was a “simple and straightforward” lawsuit against actress Sharon Stone for not returning $275,000 after she canceled a trip to Ecuador. The lawsuit demands the money back, plus seeks $77,420 more in expenses outlaid to “accommodate Stone’s diva-like requests” of first-class airfare and a four-star hotel. In the weeks since the complaint was filed in a New York federal court, the dispute has become anything but simple.
According to the Brooklyn-based plaintiff, it retained the services of the American Program Bureau to hire celebrities for the Republic of Ecuador. The PR firm was attempting to bring awareness to what the South American country sees as environmental damage caused by oil giant Chevron in its Northeast Amazon region.
Stone was to appear in Ecuador April 7–9, 2014, to meet with high-level government officials and attend a press conference. Two hours before Stone was expected to arrive, APB’s senior vp called MCS to cancel the trip. The media reported that the Basic Instinct actress was hospitalized in Brazil.
After MCS filed its lawsuit, Stone’s lawyers made an appearance in court.
“Prior to Ms. Stone traveling to Ecuador, MCS, acting as the public relations arm for the Republic of Ecuador, issued a press release asserting that the purpose of Ms. Stone’s expected trip was to support the Ecuadorian government’s ‘Dirty Hand of Chevron’ campaign,” Stone’s attorney Andrew Brettler wrote in a March 3 letter to the judge. “At no time did Ms. Stone agree to support this campaign, advance any other political agenda of the Ecuadorian government, or advocate against Chevron. In addition, Ms. Stone subsequently learned that MCS failed to disclose that it was conducting public relations activities in the United States on behalf of the Republic of Ecuador in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires a foreign agent to register with the U.S. Department of Justice.”
However, Stone wasn’t looking to mount a defense in public court. Instead, the actress insisted that her contract mandated that the dispute be sent to arbitration.
MCS soon responded by quickly filing for a default and denying the existence of an arbitration provision. The PR firm produced its own version of a two-page agreement, which prompted Stone to respond Friday with a three-page version.
Both versions list the “topic” of Stone’s Ecuadorian trip as “The Devastation Big Oil Left Behind in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” Neither version specifically mentions Chevron. Both versions have an agenda that includes meeting with the president and vice president of Ecuador and a press conference for Stone, though the contracts also give Stone the right to pre-approve all promotional materials using her likeness.
Brettler tells THR that “Stone was discharged from performing her obligations under the agreement as a result of MCS’ material breach of contract,” namely by putting out a press release without approval mentioning the “Dirty Hand of Chevron” campaign. Brettler adds, “It falsely portrays Ms. Stone as agreeing to travel to Ecuador for the purpose of advocating against Chevron, which is one of the world’s largest companies employing over 60,000 people, and which is headquartered in her home state of California.”
In response, Rodrigo Da Silva, attorney for MCS, tells THR that his client never put out a press release.
As for obligations to register with the U.S. Department of Justice in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act — enacted in 1938 upon concern about propaganda from Nazi Germany — Da Silva acknowledges that MCS was late in doing so. In July 2014, the firm finally disclosed that it had a $6.4 million deal with Ecuador — controversial because of all the attention paid to Chevron’s long environmental fight with the country. “My client did file late, but they did file,” says Da Silva. “And APB should have filed too.”
A lawyer for APB — which represents a long list of celebrity speakers, including Michael Douglas, Eva Longoria and Larry King — wasn’t immediately available to respond.
The biggest difference between the contract that MCS produced and the one that Stone’s lawyers produced (read below) are the last couple of pages. MCS provided an indemnification clause on the second page, while Stone submitted a much fuller list of terms and conditions detailing such things as the speaker being an independent contractor, confidentiality and perhaps most important at the moment, arbitration.
Da Silva calls it a forgery. “It’s clear to any lay person that they traced my client’s signature,” he says, promising to hire a handwriting expert and have subpoenas issued to figure out the truth.
“That’s just so preposterous,” responds Brettler.
The case started out as simple and straightforward. Now Da Silva says, “This is the most outrageous case I’ve ever worked on.”
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