Judge in Murder Case Sues 'Gosnell' Filmmakers Over Depiction

Judge Jeffrey Minehart says filmmakers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer have portrayed him "as a villain in their story of the righteous versus the wicked."
The poster for filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney's title 'Gosnell.'

Days before filmmakers were set to announce distribution plans for their movie about an abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder, the judge who presided over his case four years ago has sued to block its release unless changes are made.

Judge Jeffrey Minehart wants at least $50,000 from filmmakers Phelim McAleer and his wife, Ann McElhinney, whom he says have portrayed him in their book — and presumably in their film — as part of "Philadelphia's liberal corrupt government," soft on crime and laboring under conflicts of interest.

Minehart is also suing Salem Media Group, which owns conservative and Christian radio channels that have promoted the couple's book and their movie, which is finished but hasn't been released or sold, and he's suing book publisher Regnery, which is owned by Salem.

"This case is about two authors, a publishing company, and a media conglomerate — the Defendants — shamelessly exploiting for profit the morally divisive issue of abortion and the notoriety of the horrific Kermit Gosnell trial, which involved a Philadelphia abortion doctor who was found guilty of grisly mass murders of fully developed in-vitro infants, some of whom were born alive," says the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Minehart by Bochetto & Lentz, P.C.

The lawsuit contends the authors and filmmakers portray Minehart "as a villain in their story of the righteous versus the wicked" when in fact he's a "former prosecutor with an impeccable reputation for honesty, integrity and fairness."

Lawyers for Minehart also make a big deal of the political leanings of Salem and Regnery, listing books by authors like Dinesh D'Souza, Phyllis Schlafly, Michelle Malkin and David Limbaugh that they say "pit conservative heroes against corrupt liberals." On the radio side, Salem syndicates national shows from Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Larry Elder and Bill Bennett.

"They appear to publish with a predetermined agenda that colors everything they say and do," attorney George Bochetto told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday. He wouldn't discuss the political leanings of his client, though. 

The lawyers say the book, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer, devotes 178 pages to describing Gosnell as "an evil, grotesque mass murderer" before then casting Minehart as part of the "uncaring bureaucracy" and "complicit establishment" that allowed him to, literally, get away with murder.

Lawyers are requesting "a mandatory permanent injunction" requiring the defendants to add a statement to the book and "any subsequent motion picture" saying that Minehart was selected by agreement of all the attorneys in the Gosnell case.

They also ask that McAleer and McElhinney correct allegedly false claims including how Minehart was a "drinking buddy" with Gosnell's defense counsel and that he banned cameras from the courtroom.

Bochetto acknowledges it's very unusual for a judge to file a lawsuit of this sort. "But it's not unprecedented. They're human, after all, with families, friends and neighbors. You can't write any damn thing you want about them."

"Our goal is to vindicate Judge Minehart in the book," added Bochetto. "I haven't seen the movie yet, but if it's anything like the book, it is purposely defamatory."

Gosnell is serving a sentence of life without parole at SCI Huntingdon in Pennsylvania after he was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter.

The movie from McAleer and McElhinney is dubbed Gosnell and was made with $2.1 million the couple raised through crowdfunding at Indiegogo. It was written by Andrew Klavan, directed by actor Nick Searcy and executive produced by John Sullivan, who co-directed two of D'Souza's documentary films. It stars Dean Cain as Det. James Wood, the protagonist, and Earl Billings as Gosnell.

Reached on Friday, McAleer reiterated that the book and film are accurate and based on interviews with Gosnell from prison along with the 280-page report of the grand jury, which says that Gosnell ran a seedy abortion clinic for decades and killed "hundreds" of "newborns" by sticking scissors into their necks.

While he said he cannot speak for Salem or Regnery or about the book, he vowed that the lawsuit would not prevent the eventual distribution of the film.

"Gosnell is a case about cover-ups; by the health department and by the media, and now a judge is trying it," McAleer told THR. "Minehart may be a judge, but he needs to study his Constitutional law books. We have a First Amendent right to artistic expression. It's sickening, and he can expect a vigorous legal response. The cover-up stops here."