12:08pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Judge Allows 'Hawaii Five-O' Heirs to Pursue Agent Over 'Machiavellian Scheme'
Next month, ex-agent George Litto will go to trial in a $100 million lawsuit that alleges he has been cut out from financially participating in CBS' current hit reboot of Hawaii Five-O.
Litto claims that CBS dealt with the wrong party in entering into a deal for the crime drama. He's suing the trustees managing the estate of the widow of Hawaii Five-O creator Leonard Freeman as well as CBS for allegedly ignoring Litto's rights.
In advance of the trial, the trustees have moved forward in their own counterclaims thanks to an L.A. Superior Court judge's ruling late last week.
Litto has asserted that a joint company set up by him and the late Rose Freeman in the mid-1990s actually controls exploitation of Hawaii Five-O. But the Freeman heirs present a different picture.
According to their cross-complaint, "Through a series of manipulative, harassing, abusive, and deceptive actions directed at Rose that spanned decades, Litto maneuvered himself into a position to take advantage of Rose by transforming his relationship with her from talent agent to possible producer, to partner, to having, according to him, total control over Hawaii Five-O. His goal was and is to take over the rights that the Trusts own in the Series and to direct revenues derived from the exploitation of such rights to himself. Litto, by commencing [his lawsuit], is now attempting to execute the final piece of his almost forty year Machiavellian scheme."
Filed by attorney Michael Plonsker, the cross-complaint (read here) goes on to allege that Litto manipulated his former client's widow into transferring rights in the series and allowing him to control day-to-day management of a joint company.
Litto's own lawsuit presents the agreement to set up the company as one of teamwork. In the 1990s, Litto and Freeman were together battling CBS over who held the right to make a motion picture based on Hawaii Five-O. But the counterclaims say that the outcome was a "something for nothing" transfer of rights.
On Jan. 23, Judge Elizabeth Allen White overruled a demurrer from Litto's attorney. Among other determinations, she stated that the counterclaimants had sufficiently stated a cause of action for fraud in alleging that Litto had misrepresented the purpose of transferring reserved rights to Hawaii Five-O. The judge also overruled objections to claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (Litto is also being sued for "financial elder abuse" over a deal that Rose Freeman made when she was 67 years old.)
Judge White also refused to strike punitive damages being sought by the trustees. (Here's the ruling.)
It's unclear at the moment when the allegations in the cross-complaint will be tried at the same trial scheduled for Feb. 26 addressing Litto's claims. On Monday, Henry Gradstein, Litto's attorney, filed a motion to sever the cross-complaint. This will likely be examined at a pretrial status conference on Feb. 13.
Additionally, Litto is addressing the cross-complaint on the merits and wants the trustees' claims precluded as untimely. According to one of his legal filings, "The allegations underlying the Trusts' causes of action in the [second amended cross-complaint], even if true, relate to events that occurred well outside the applicable statutes of limitations for all of the causes of action."
Judge White will have to address this argument.
For now, the case not only concerns tens of millions of dollars in revenue from CBS' successful show, but also how an industry agent stepped up in the first place to be in the position to demand such spoils.