By Brent Lang
Looks like the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. will keep the court system humming for a little while longer.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge will allow large portions of two separate suits against the Golden Globes producer to go forward.
Judge Kevin Brazile ruled Wednesday that a $2 million breach of contract suit filed by the HFPA’s former publicist Michael Russell had demonstrated sufficient evidence that the organization had failed to make payments and violated the terms of their contract to continue up the legal chain.
In addition, Brazile ruled that Stars for a Cause, a non-profit group that is also squaring off against the annual awards show producer, had presented adequate evidence of unfair business practices, defamation, and intentional interference with economic advantages claims to continue along with its $1 million damages claims.
“…Plaintiffs have shown an existing economic relationship between Plaintiff Stars for a Cause and Chrysler and Cunard. Plaintiffs have further provided evidence that there was a probability of future charity work with these corporations which was disrupted by Defendants’ defamatory statements,” the ruling reads.
Joe Campo, an attorney for the HFPA, said the group was pleased that the judge rejected portions of Stars’ and Russell’s suits, even though he allowed other parts to move forward.
“While we did not expect the Court to dismiss either Complaint in its entirety at this early stage, we were satisfied with Judge Brazile’s rejection of several theories against the HFPA and Mr. Berk and look forward to addressing the weaknesses of the remaining claims by motion for summary judgment after all the evidence is assembled through discovery and depositions,” Campo wrote in an email to TheWrap.
Timothy McGonigle, an attorney for the Michael Russell Group and Stars for a Cause, declined to comment.
However, the judge shot down several claims. The judge said that Stars co-founder George Braunstein had failed to demonstrate that the HFPA had violated a business contract with him personally, although his defamation claims can proceed.
The judge also rejected Stars’ claims that the HFPA had intentionally interfered with a contract with Chrysler in which the car manufacturer would auction off up to six cars and donate the proceeds to the charity. The judge noted that although Chrysler only sold off four cars, an auction had in fact taken place.
In siding with Russell, the judge said that the publicist would need to submit more evidence backing up his charges of widespread fraud at the awards producer and wrongful termination claims — perhaps his most explosive accusations.
Russell launched a legal attack on his former employer in January, charging the organization and its members with corrupt practices ranging from selling media credentials and red carpet space to accepting money and gifts from studios in exchange for nominations.
The HFPA countersued a month later, charging the publicist with breach of contract, trading on the organization’s name and accepting kickbacks.
Stars for a Cause edged into the legal wrangling last winter as well. The charity alleged that HFPA President Phil Berk muddied the waters while the group was trying to negotiate a contract with Chrysler and NBC for a fund drive to raise money for Haitian Earthquake Relief.
In May, the judge punted Russell’s defamation claims against the group.
The case will now move into the discovery phase with a court order mediation scheduled for February.
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