Juicy Legal Fallout from Cancellation of O.J. Simpson’s Book Deal

The recent decision by News Corp. publishing subsidiary HarperCollins to cancel the publication of O.J. Simpson’s no-tell tell-all If I Did It is generating ripple upon ripple of actual and threatened litigation.  Last Friday, Dec. 15, News Corp. summarily fired Judith Regan, who made the Simpson deal and who would have published the book under her Regan Books imprint.  Notwithstanding her personal responsibility for one of the great debacles of contemporary media, Regan maintains she is the wronged party in the firing and has hired high-profile Hollywood lawyer Bert Fields to take on her former employers.

The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 18 – article is available to non-subscribers) reported yesterday:

But Ms. Regan is fighting back, hiring well-known Hollywood litigator Bert Fields.  ‘They’ve chosen war and they will get exactly that,’ said Mr. Fields in an interview.  ‘She won’t take this lying down.’

Mr. Fields said HarperCollins had used guards to lock down Ms. Regan’s office and had also impounded her personal belongings.  ‘We’ll take appropriate action for everything HarperCollins has done,’ added Mr. Fields.  ‘They chose this path and I hope they remember it.’  A HarperCollins spokesman said that Ms. Regan collected her personal belongings before leaving her office in Los Angeles and that her office in New York wasn’t locked and that her belongings weren’t impounded.

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[T]his past week, tensions flared, although details are still sketchy.  One scenario has it that Ms. Regan made some intemperate remarks to a HarperCollins attorney on Friday afternoon, causing Ms. Friedman to fire her.  The termination was executed with none of the usual corporate pleasantries about "pursuing other opportunities" and long years of service.

In an intriguing sidelight, the WSJ‘s Law Blog (Dec. 18) reports that attorney Fields is, or fancies himself, a Shakespeare scholar and has had two books published on Shakespearean subjects . . . through the Regan Books imprint.  (Oh no, no potential conflicts of interest there; let’s just move along.)

Fields is perhaps best known as the bane of the Walt Disney Company: he represented Jeffrey Katzenberg in the now-settled litigation arising from Katzenberg’s departure from the company, he was consulted by the Weinstein brothers of Miramax when their relationship with Disney cooled, and he has featured prominently in the seemingly never-ending dispute over the rights to Winnie the Pooh.  He has also been a subject of interest, but has not been the object of any criminal charges, in the investigations surrounding wiretapping and other alleged misdeeds by "private investigator to the stars" Anthony Pellicano.

News Corp., in preparing to respond to Regan’s and Fields’ accusations, has taken the unusual step of disclosing the content of otherwise confidential notes taken by one of its own attorneys.  Those notes purport to reveal anti-Semitic remarks made by Regan and claimed by News Corp. to have been the "last straw" leading to Regan’s firing.  (See New York Times, Dec. 19).

Meanwhile, ABC News (Dec. 18, via the publishing weblog GalleyCat) reports that Regan and others at Regan Books, HarperCollins and News Corp. will likely either be named as defendants or at the very least have their depositions taken on behalf of the heirs of Ronald Goldman, who continue to attempt to collect on their civil wrongful death judgment against Simpson.  The Goldman family sees the entire transaction as a further attempt to hide Simpson’s assets:

The lawsuit would likely be based on the legal premise of ‘fraudulent transfer,’ which in this case would contend that News Corp. executives knowingly conspired to assist Simpson in subverting a civil judgment against him.

And so the saga continues, with only the lawyers — and Simpson — seeming to gain from it.


UPDATE: The Smoking Gun (Dec. 19) has posted a copy of the Goldman lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and naming as defendants Simpson and Lorraine Brooke Associates, a corporation created (per the Complaint) to “warehouse Simpson’s intellectual property rights” and to serve as a conduit through which proceeds of those rights might be funneled to evade the Goldman judgment.

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