Hollywood Docket: Johnny Depp's Trial Delay; WGA Judge Swap; 'Zootopia' Win

A roundup of entertainment legal news involving Johnny Depp, Justin Timberlake, Disney, the WGA, Kevin Spacey and more.
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Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp won't be pursuing malpractice claims connected to his divorce from Amber Heard as part of his legal fight with his former talent lawyer Jake Bloom, a Tuesday filing indicates. 

Depp in October 2017 sued Bloom, claiming he was improperly collecting millions in contingent fees without a contract. Last month, Bloom's lawyers indicated Depp was intending to pursue claims related to advice his talent lawyer gave him during his split from Heard. In response, they noticed depositions for relevant witnesses — including ousted Warner Bros. chairman Kevin Tsujihara, who allegedly heard a request from Depp to deny Heard film work. That deposition notice was later withdrawn, according to a source. Other deposition notices were sent to Tesla billionaire and former Heard boyfriend Elon Musk and power litigator Marty Singer. According to a filing Monday, Depp's lawyers told Bloom's legal team the following day that they wouldn't be pursuing claims in connection with the divorce. 

There's still plenty to war over, though, and multiple Hollywood A-listers could be called in to testify. The trial is currently set to begin Sept. 16 and, before then, Bloom's team says they need to depose not only Heard but also Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Depp's agent Bryan Lourd and entertainment power lawyers Singer, Blair Berk and Laura Wasser.

Bloom's lawyers are asking to push the trial to next spring, claiming that because of discovery disputes they have only recently received more than 1.5 million pages of documents related to Depp's previously settled lawsuit against his business managers at The Management Group. (Depp contends Bloom is liable for some of TMG's alleged misconduct.) Bloom's attorney Mathew Wrenshall estimates it would take 10 attorneys five months to read the papers.

"To allow for Defendants’ orderly review of the newly released documents requested in 2017, the deposition and/or redeposition of about 25 fact witnesses, followed by the substantial expert discovery required by the malpractice claims and claims regarding TMG, and given that Plaintiffs seek $50+ million in damages, a trial date of March 2020 would be realistic and would allow Defendants a fair opportunity to defend at trial," writes Wrenshall. 

According to Depp’s attorney Adam Waldman, the professed confusion about whether claims include the management of the divorce was “simply a stall tactic by Bloom Hergott to delay their day of reckoning in court." However, the record indicates that Depp's legal team in March informed the court it would include in the actor's negligence claim advice Bloom gave the actor relating to his divorce. 

The trial setting conference is set for May 29.

In other entertainment legal news:

— Disney is clear of a federal copyright infringement lawsuit over Zootopia. Esplanade Productions in March 2017 sued Disney, claiming its animated hit ripped off the work of Total Recall writer Gary L. Goldman. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on April 21 affirmed U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald's November 2017 dismissal of the suit, finding the protectable elements aren't substantially similar. "Defendants may have copied the idea of a zoo utopia, but their expression of that idea bears almost no resemblance to Plaintiff’s expression," states the memorandum. 

— Justin Timberlake and Will.i.am have settled a three-year dispute over their 2006 hit "Damn Girl." The sister of late disco artist Perry Kibble in February 2016 sued them, along with Sony Music and others, for copyright infringement, claiming the song infringes on Kibble's 1969 tune "A New Day Is Here at Last." On April 26, a lawyer for Timberlake filed a letter with the court to tell the judge they've reached a deal on the full terms and language of a settlement agreement. 

— A new judge has been assigned in the Writers Guild of America's lawsuit against the major agencies. The guild on April 30 sent a letter to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Marc Gross, suggesting that he should recuse himself because his wife's work in the entertainment industry created a conflict of interest. The case on Monday was reassigned to Judge Craig Karlan.

— Apple can't dodge a class action lawsuit that claims it is tricking iTunes customers into buying TV bundles by artificially inflating the episode count. A California federal judge in March denied Apple's motion to dismiss, which had argued that a reasonable consumer would understand "episode" could include ads, trailers and promo videos that aren't part of the overall narrative. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton isn't buying it and denied the motion in its entirety. (Read the full opinion here.)

— Kevin Spacey is asking a California federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by an anonymous masseur who claims he was assaulted by the actor while giving him a massage in October 2016. In an April 2 motion, Spacey argues the unnamed man hasn't met the exceptional circumstances required to sue under a pseudonym. Alternatively, the actor is asking the court to order him to reveal his identity. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew will rule on the matter without hearing oral arguments. 

— The costumer who sued Fred Savage and Fox over an alleged dust-up on the set of Fox's The Grinder has voluntarily dismissed her complaint, according to an April 18 filing.  

— A dispute sparked by Bill Maher's use of the n-word has ended. Shonitria Anthony in March 2018 sued ATTN: claiming she was terminated in retaliation for complaining about Maher's speech on his HBO series. Just days after the parties failed to appear at an April 15 status conference, without notifying the court of the reason for their absence, Anthony filed a voluntary dismissal of her claims.