IN THIS ISSUE:

REPORTING
Presidential Choices for Attorney General?
OBAMA vs McCAIN

BRIEFS
Model Weathers Lawsuit over an Umbrella

Dan Rather Headed for Trial

John Grisham Wins Real-Life Court Battle

Tommy Lee Jones Sues Studio

SIDEBAR
Talking Frivolously about Frivolous Lawsuits

TRANSITIONS
Erin Brockovich

Federal Judge Barefoot Sanders dies at 83

Where Are They Now?
Judge Lance Ito


TRAVEL
When in Rome: Dining Out in The Eternal City

BOOK REVIEWS
Supreme Courtship
by Christopher Buckley


PAST ISSUES
> August 2008



> A Million Dollar Suit about a Broken Umbrella
> Dan Rather Heads to Court
> Libel Complaint Against John Grisham Found "Not Plausible"
> Tommy Lee Jones v. Paramount Pictures





Model Behavior
If you take a top New York model, a member of the Rothschild family, and a famous Italian restaurant frequented by jet-setters and celebrities, you’d think you’d end up with one compelling lawsuit, or at least one worth considerable moolah, but you’d be wrong.

nantucket flagNello Balan, the owner of Nello, a popular Northern Italian restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side, filed a lawsuit against model Le Call because he loaned her an umbrella .  .  . and she failed to return it in good condition.  Balan claimed that while the model was eating at his restaurant he loaned her an umbrella made by designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.  Balan alleged that he had to call the model several times requesting the return of the umbrella.  Finally, the umbrella was returned with the handle broken off by the chauffer of Nathaniel Rothschild (yes, he’s a real Rothschild and the only son of Jacob Rothschild, the Fourth Baron Rothschild).

Balan claimed that the umbrella which he loaned to the model was a limited edition leather and worth thousands of dollars.  He maintained that the umbrella was beyond repair.  His complaint contained causes of action for prima facie tort, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and damage to the umbrella.  The total request for monetary damages was one million dollars.  The lawsuit made all of the New York papers and provided ammunition for those who claim that there are two many frivolous lawsuits.  See Sidebar:  Talking Frivolously about Frivolous Lawsuits.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden dismissed the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and bounced the remainder of the suit to small claims court.  She socked the attorney for the plaintiff with sanctions of five hundred dollars (probably less than what was warranted under the circumstances).

The restaurant owner was not prepared to shrink away even after the bad publicity.  He was still complaining about the model’s behavior to the Daily News.  “An apology is in order,” he observed.  “It’s what is civilized.”


Rather Suit to Go On

When CBS newsman Dan Rather left the network he determined not to go quietly into the good night.  Rather filed a 70 million dollar lawsuit against CBS and former parent company Viacom Inc.

nantucket flagRecently, in pre-trial proceedings Judicial Hearing Officer Ira Gammerman dismissed Rather’s fraud claim against CBS and his business interference claim against CBS and Viacom.  But he left standing Rather’s claim against CBS for breach of contract and his breach of fiduciary claim.

The dispute began in 2005 when Rather was removed from his position as news anchor after a special report about George Bush’s military record was challenged.  Rather stayed on at CBS, but he claimed that the network did not live up to its promise to give him a high profile slot on 60 minutes and that the network kept him around long enough to damage his journalistic reputation. 

Hearing Officer Gammerman is known to move cases along very quickly.  There is a chance that the trial will be held before the summer.  What are the prospects for Rather?  CBS attorney James Quinn was quoted as saying that Rather couldn’t prove his breach of contract claim because CBS had given him a slot on “60 Minutes II” and had paid him all amounts due.  Martin Gold, Rather’s attorney, responded by saying that proving the breach of contract claim would be a “slam dunk.”


Legal Fiction?nantucket flag

A Federal Judge in Oklahoma has dismissed a libel suit against best selling author John Grisham resulting from his non-fiction book, The Innocent Man.  In the book, Grisham had written about the 1982 killing of Debra Sue Carter, an Oklahoma cocktail waitress, and the two men arrested and convicted for the killing.  The two men were later freed as a result of DNA evidence .  .  .  after serving twelve years in prison.

The Plaintiffs in the libel suit were government officials involved in the prosecution:  former Pontotoc County DA William Peterson, former Oklahoma investigator Gary Rodgers, and Oklahoma criminologist Melvin Hett.  The suit accused Grisham and the other defendants of conspiring to commit libel and intentionally inflict emotional distress.

In his book Grisham had written that the District Attorney and others had tried to suppress evidence which might have exonerated the defendants.  The libel suit was filed against Grisham, his publishers, two other authors who had written about the case, and well-known attorney Barry Scheck, the founder of the Innocence Project, who had served as an attorney for one of the convicted men.  Judge Ronald White used some writing flourishes of his own in dismissing the lawsuit.  “What two words best describe a claim for money damages by government officials against authors and publishers of books describing purported prosecutorial misconduct,” he asked in his ruling.   “Answer:  “Not Plausible.”


Just Say the Lines and Don't Trip Over the Oscar

nantucket flagThe 2007 movie thriller No Country for Old Men earned four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Two Golden Globes, but one of the stars, Tommy Lee Jones, has let it be known that he is after more than just glittering prizes.  Jones filed suit against Paramount Pictures claiming that he is entitled to ten million dollars because the studio breached the terms of his contract.

In his complaint Jones says that he agreed to accept a reduced upfront fee in exchange for “significant box office bonuses and back-end compensation.”  He claims that after filming started on the movie, Paramount claimed there were mistakes in the contact.  Not surprisingly, the two sides are now taking opposing positions with respect to the language in the contract. 

In the movie, Tommy Lee Jones plays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell.  The movie is based on a critically acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Jones asked that an auditor be named to review financial records and determine the correct amount of payment.  The film grossed more than 160 million dollars.