Dr. Phil Ends Legal War With Former Staffer

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The legal battle between Dr. Phil McGraw and Leah Rothman has featured some twists and turns, from alleged false imprisonment to a novel copyright claim, but it appears to be coming to a close thanks to a settlement.

Rothman, who worked for a dozen years as a segment producer on The Dr. Phil Show, sued McGraw in California state court in 2015 for allegedly causing her emotional distress and falsely imprisoning her when during a meeting, Dr. Phil locked the door, yelled profanities and threatened employees for supposedly leaking internal information to the press.

As that case settled, McGraw's Peteski Productions sued Rothman for purloining behind-the-scenes footage. According to court papers, Rothman attempted to get evidence in her suit by accessing a database of videos from the Dr. Phil Show archives and recording on her iPhone some clips. Peteski also accused Rothman of being the source behind a National Enquirer story about Dr. Phil's behavior. (Dr. Phil would briefly sue the tabloid for libel before dropping the case.)

In a decision last August, Texas federal judge Rodney Gilstrap decided that Rothman wasn't entitled to a fair use defense for whatever videos she took to aid her in court battles. Gilstrap's decision, criticized in copyright circles, concluded there was no public interest nor transformative purpose because the work copied was for her own benefit — plus that Peteski was entitled to protect the opportunity to license show outtakes.

Later, the judge also decided his court — most famous for patent cases — should be the venue of the dispute even though both McGraw and Rothman live in California.

The two sides prepared for a trial in late March, with Rothman arguing she really didn't use the videos and Peteski lacked copyright registrations for two of the videos. Dr. Phil's company responded that the sole reason it had not registered its copyrights is because Rothman refused to produce them. Further quarrels pertained to supposed damages. Rothman asserted there was no causal link between the infringement and damages, with Peteski putting forth experts on the tabloid market for salacious video of celebrities. Peteski also made a motion to preclude discussion of mistreated staffers at the trial.

Now, though, the sides have put the matter to a close, with Rothman agreeing to a consent judgment and permanent injunction. According to the adopted judgment made public Tuesday, the court has jurisdiction; Peteski has ownership and standing to sue; and Rothman is enjoined from possessing, reproducing or offering to sell the videos. Each side bears its own costs and attorneys' fees.