David Cassidy Denied Jury Trial Over 'Partridge Family' Claims

Showbiz veterans are hungry to follow Don Johnson's lead and bring allegations before a jury of being denied money from old work, but contractual arbitration provisions can cause a problem.
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David Cassidy

David Cassidy may not get a chance to tell a jury how Sony Pictures Television screwed him out of Partridge Family money after all. A judge has ruled that the dispute should be handled by an arbitrator.

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Last year, the actor sued Sony and claimed that despite reports that ABC's top-rated series in the 1970s had generated nearly $500 million from games, magazines, posters and more, he was only paid a "paltry sum." Cassidy further alleged that his contract entitled him to 15 percent of net proceeds from merchandise and 7.5 percent of the net proceeds derived from the exhibition and exploitation of the underlying property rights of the show.

In an interview with CNN last year, Cassidy expressed enthusiastic optimism about how a jury would handle his claims.

“I don't want to shame and embarrass and humiliate them, but I will if I have to," he said. Pretending he was addressing his potential legal adversary, Cassidy added, "You owe me a fortune -- you want to go to trial, big bad Sony against David Cassidy, go ahead."

But there may not be any trial. A California judge earlier this month decided to honor the arbitration provision of the actor's 1971 contract. Cassidy is appealing.

It's understandable why Cassidy would want this dispute before a jury instead of an arbitrator: Celebrities often make sympathetic figures and there's quite a bit of skepticism over so-called "Hollywood accounting." One of the best examples is the $23 million in profits that was awarded by a jury a couple years ago to Don Johnson from Rysher Entertainment over Nash Bridges.

Cassidy and his attorney Kenneth Linzer believe that their case against Sony is just as strong. The complaint points out that Cassidy got a very favorable contract to star in Partridge Family, entitling him to more than "net profits" but rather "net proceeds." In the complaint, Cassidy wasn't quite sure what he was owed, pointing to reports that merchandise and spinoffs had generated $500 million, but he blamed the uncertainty on the fact that Sony had provided accountings and financial reports "begrudgingly, inconsistently, inaccurately and fraudulently."

The contract might have in part been favorable to Cassidy, but not completely.

In Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin's order to send the dispute to an arbitrator, he writes, "There is no support for (Cassidy's) argument that he was fraudulently induced to enter into the arbitration agreement."

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So now Cassidy may be headed for arbitration, which besides featuring no jury, also has different (and often limited) rules pertaining to discovery. Linzer says he'll file a writ to the court of appeal to head off that possibility. Sony hasn't yet responded to a request for comment, but upon the lawsuit's initial filing, the company said in a statement, "We have dealt with Mr. Cassidy in a completely lawful and appropriate way, and are confident that we will prevail in any proceeding."

Cassidy is just one of several showbiz veterans that have brought claims against studios in recent years.

James Best, now 85, who played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazard, claims he’s owed millions of dollars from Warner Bros. in merchandising and spin-off profit participation. Jack Klugman, 89, the title character from Quincy M.E., accused NBC of hiding millions in profits from the show. Mike Connors, 85, former star of Mannix, is suing CBS claiming he’s never been paid any royalties despite the show’s worldwide success. And Marion Ross, 82, was one of several Happy Days cast members suing CBS Studios and Paramount over revenue from home video releases and licensed merchandise. That case recently settled.

Why are aging Hollywood stars suddenly treating studios like they're the U.S. government and forgot to send out the Social Security checks?

“Old actors hang with old actors,” says Neville Johnson, a lawyer who is currently representing Klugman, Connors and a host of others he can’t disclose because the claims are tied up in confidential arbitration proceedings. “They socialize and read the newspapers and there’s an awareness of what happened to Don Johnson. Not only aren’t they getting money, but they aren’t getting statements either, so they know it’s a matter of turning over a rock and seeing all the moss.”

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Andrew White, an attorney at Kelley Drye who defended Paramount and CBS in the Happy Days lawsuit, agrees that the Don Johnson verdict had an effect, but defends studios against the charge they aren’t sending out accounting statements.

“Producers of properties send out thousands of profit participation statements every quarter,” he says. “Every studio has an entire department. I know a lot of these people and they work very hard at their job. They don’t always get it right and they are the first to admit it, but a lot of this comes down to routine quibbles over distribution statements and a lot of disputes get resolved before an audit.”

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner