A New York judge rejected several pre-trial motions in a $50 million lawsuit filed by the filmmakers behind a still-unreleased animated film, Escape From Planet Earth against the Weinstein Company, paving the way for the case to go to trial. TWC and its fellow defendants had attempted to have the claims — that the companies violated their contract with the filmmakers and “sabotaged” the release of their own movie with “Bialystock & Bloom” financial shenanigans — dismissed or at least moved to a California court. But New York State Judge Paul Feinman denied their motions — as well as one from the plaintiff requesting that the defendant’s lawyer be removed — and scheduled a pre-trial conference for Nov. 16.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of writer/director Tony Leech (Hoodwinked) and producer Brian Inerfeld (Mr. Woodcock), claims that TWC: Forced Leech to re-write the script 17 times; paid Kevin Bacon not to voice a character he had previously agreed to perform; fired the filmmakers when they refused to give up their back-end participation; and then paid $500,000 in hush money to keep the plaintiffs from filing their complaint in the midst of last year’s Oscar race.
The defendant’s attorney, David Boies, said at the time of the complaint’s filing in March: “This is an irresponsible and baseless lawsuit filed as part of an attempt to extort millions of dollars from Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Company. Plaintiffs and their counsel threatened to attack Mr. Weinstein and the Weinstein Company publicly unless paid $5 million, an amount that bore no relationship to any possible amount in dispute. When their demands were refused, this lawsuit and their accompanying press campaign resulted. Plaintiffs and their counsel should be ashamed of themselves.”
“The bottom line to me is, people don’t pay half a million dollars to keep false claims out of the media,” says the plaintiff’s attorney, Judd Burstein. “Plainly the reason why they were so upset and so willing to pay that money is they know everything we said is true.”
Burstein wanted Boies disqualified from the case because he could be a material witness if TWC ever countercharged that the $500,000 was extortion, since Boies may have advised TWC to make that payment. But Feinman denied that motion “on the ground that it is premature” since the defendants have not yet officially answered the complaint. “In my opinion, [the extortion claim] is a stupid claim, but they have the right to do it,” says Burstein. “In which case they lose their lawyer. They have to make a choice.”
In an emailed statement, the Weinstein Company said, “The Court’s decision, which was procedural in nature, relates to the question of whether the case would be tried in New York or California. We look forward to winning this case on the merits before Judge Feinman in New York. We are also pleased with Judge Feinman’s rejection of plaintiffs’ improper efforts to disqualify Schiller & Flexner and its chairman David Boies. The firm and its founder have earned the reputation of being world-class lawyers practicing law with the highest of ethical standards.”
Burstein is optimistic that the case will go to trial in 2012. “I’m salivating at the chance to get Harvey Weinstein under oath about this,” he says. “That will be a show. That will be worth making a movie about.”