Judge tosses Cussler's 'Sahara' claim


A Los Angeles judge has rejected "Sahara" author Clive Cussler's claims that Crusader Entertainment owes him at least $8.5 million in damages for second-picture rights to another Dirk Pitt novel.

Cussler and Crusader went to trial last year in a long-running feud where both sides claimed breach of contract in the making of films based on the author's popular character.

In May, a jury ordered Cussler to pay Crusader $5 million in damages for making false representations about international sales of his Dirk Pitt book series and knowing that those representations were false.

Among the questions answered by the jury was that Crusader was obligated to pay for a second book deal if there was a second movie, which never happened. Based on that finding, Cussler's attorney, Bert Fields, said his client was owed $8.5 million for the second book, which minus the jury's verdict totaled $3.5 million in damages payable to Cussler.

But in a one-page order issued Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shook wrote that the question answered by the jury regarding the second book deal was "advisory in nature."

"(Cussler) cannot now contend that the jury's response to Question 60 is tantamount to a judgment for $8,517,429," the court order states. Crusader's attorney, Marvin Putnam, said the court order and jury verdict were a victory for Crusader.

"The attempt to misconstrue the jury's findings into a claim that Cussler somehow was still entitled to the $8.5 million for a second book were rightly deemed absurd by the court," Putnam said. "Cussler's deplorable acts during the production of 'Sahara' and the jury's rejection of all of his claims did not entitle him to that money. The jury understood this. The court understood this. Now, hopefully, so too will Clive Cussler." Fields disagrees.

"The judge has not yet ruled who is the prevailing party in the case," he said. "My feeling is Cussler is because he is entitled to $8.5 million. They lost the case, and they're pretending they won it. They owe him the $8.5 million. They can't dodge it."

With both sides having different takes on the order, it's likely the case won't be resolved for a long time and likely will wind up on appeal. Cussler sued Crusader in January 2004 seeking $40 million in damages, claiming Crusader failed to give him full script approval for "Sahara" and that the production company ripped the heart out of the story, causing the film to flop.

Crusader countersued, claiming that Cussler sabotaged the production by making disparaging comments about the movie, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, before its release and encouraged his fans to boycott. It sought $115 million in damages.

"Sahara" was made for $130 million but brought in just $119.2 million at the boxoffice worldwide.