Hollywood Docket: SAG-AFTRA Backs Ashley Judd in Harvey Weinstein Appeal

A roundup of entertainment legal news involving Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Old Spice and more.
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Ashley Judd, Harvey Weinstein

SAG-AFTRA is putting its weight behind actress Ashley Judd in her legal battle with Harvey Weinstein in a filing that argues exempting their professional relationship from a California law that provides a cause of action for victims of business-related harassment would leave "countless" guild members without recourse against perpetrators.

Judd in April 2018 sued Weinstein for sexual harassment and defamation, alleging the producer badmouthed her to Peter Jackson and cost her a film role in The Lord of the Rings after she rejected Weinstein's sexual advances. U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez in September 2018 dismissed the harassment claim, finding the statute the actress relies upon (California Civil Code Section 51.9) doesn't apply to potential employer-employee relationships.

A few weeks later, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that amended Section 51.9 to specifically include a reference to directors and producers among the list of examples in the statute. Judd amended her complaint, and Gutierrez again dismissed the sexual harassment claim finding that the bill "modified rather than clarified" the scope of the law and couldn't apply retroactively.

The actress filed an appeal, and on Sept. 3 the actors' guild filed an amicus brief in support. It says it has received hundreds of reports from artists about "inappropriate behavior by powerful people, predominantly men, in the entertainment industry" since people like Judd began speaking out and the #MeToo era began.

"The District Court’s opinion opens a giant rift in sexual harassment law that will potentially leave countless SAG-AFTRA members without recourse against abusers that hold sway over their careers," states the filing.

The guild argues that some of the most important meetings between talent and those who can further their careers are not technically job interviews, but that doesn't mean they aren't in the furtherance of a “business, service, or professional relationship" as required by the statute — and the intent of the bill that changed the language to add directors and producers was to make it clear the law applies to them.

The California State Senate on Aug. 30 filed its own brief arguing that Gutierrez "improperly disregarded the Legislature's intent to clarify section 51.9’s scope — as clearly expressed throughout SB 224’s legislative history — and that an affirmation of the district court’s order would undermine the Legislature’s efforts to combat sexual harassment in California."

Weinstein's answering brief is currently due Oct. 11.

In other entertainment law news:

— The formal judgment has been entered in the copyright dispute over Katy Perry's hit "Dark Horse." A Los Angeles jury in July found the song infringed on Christian rapper Marcus Gray's song "Joyful Noise" and awarded a combined $2.78 million in damages. Capitol Records will foot the largest chunk of the bill at nearly $1.3 million, while Perry will pay just more than $550,000 and producer Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald will pay about $61,000. (See the full breakdown here.)

— Roman Polanski has withdrawn his bid to disqualify the Los Angeles County Superior Court from overseeing his legal battle with the Academy, which challenges his expulsion. His attorney, Harland Braun, tells the court that because the Academy's action was based on his 1978 conviction for the rape of a 13-year-old girl, which is its being challenged in another ongoing legal fight, it makes sense for the same court to handle both matters. He writes, "Roman Polanski believes that this Court itself is in the best position to correct what he believes to be a historical and moral error."

— The family of a 24-year-old man who was hit and killed in a drunk-driving crash is suing Viacom and the producers of the new Comedy Central series Lights Out With David Spade. According to a complaint filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Jacob Gralitzer left the show's premiere party "severely intoxicated" and picked up his car at valet. He crashed into an Acura on Melrose Avenue, and that car struck Noah Bernardout, who later died as a result of his injuries. Gralitzer was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Bernardout's family is suing for wrongful death and is seeking an unspecified amount of damages. Viacom has not yet commented on the complaint. Both Gralitzer and the driver of the Acura are also named as defendants. 

— Warren Beatty has settled a dispute with Regency Entertainment over the box office flop Rules Don't Apply. Regency in December 2017 sued Beatty's production company after the $25 million film only grossed $3.9 million worldwide. It sought at least $18 million in damages, claiming it paid substantial upfront costs that were supposed to be repaid any money that wasn't recouped from the film's profits. A request to voluntarily dismiss the complaint with prejudice was filed Aug. 14.

— Composer H. Scott Salinas is suing Proctor & Gamble and ad agency Wieden+Kennedy for copyright infringement. Salinas says he created and copyrighted a distinctive whistle that was used in Old Spice commercial campaigns outside the scope of the limited license he gave P&G. Salinas says after his license term ended W+K hired another performer to recreate the whistle for future campaigns. (Read the complaint here.) In addition to seeking damages and an injunction, Salinas is asking the U.S. Trademark Office to cancel the sensory mark registration P&G filed for the Old Spice whistle.

— The workplace racial and sexual harassment dispute involving the production company behind America's Funniest Home Videos, Vin Di Bona Entertainment, has been moved to arbitration. Three Jane Does in March sued the company, which argued that their employment contracts contained a mandatory arbitration provision. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dennis Landon found the dispute to fall under the terms of the contract and on July 25 granted the company's motion to compel arbitration. 

— Vice Media and porn cryptocurrency company Vice Industry Token have settled their trademark dispute. VIT in January 2018 sued Vice after the media company sent a cease-and-desist letter alleging the "Vice Industry Token" trademark infringed on its rights to "Vice." The parties notified the court earlier this year that they had reached a settlement, but the terms were not specified. 

— A former Chicago personal injury lawyer has been sentenced to three years behind bars after misappropriating his clients' money to fund a comic book character called "Excuseman." According to the Chicago Tribune, Jordan Margolis had negotiated a two-year sentence with prosecutors, but it was contingent on him paying full restitution to the dozen clients he stole from. Cook County Judge Erica Reddick tacked on another year because Margolis still owes about $300,000.

— Skadden has hired Glen Mastroberte as counsel in its entertainment group. His practice will focus on Hollywood deals including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and negotiating production, distribution and financing agreements.