Hollywood can be a small town, particularly when it comes to Entertainment Law practitioners at a certain level. This can cut both ways for potential clients, as plaintiffs Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold learned when U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson in Los Angeles tossed a big section of their suit, rejecting claims of idea theft and breach of contract over the popular Fox television program New Girl.
The judge–who had previously found their suit problematic–pointed out to Counts and Gold that, despite their complaints to him, they had been fully informed by their initial counsel of a potential conflict of interest before entering into talks about a potential settlement, which they rejected. Wilson found their attorneys were not “incapacitated” by the potential conflict, nor did they act in bad faith. Meantime, he reminded them that they had exceeded the statute of limitations for their action and, he, thus, granted defendants’ motion to dismiss part of their claim. How did this case get in such a muddle?
Counts and Gold originally sued Fox and 21 other parties, asserting they had violated copyrights on Square One, their script for a pilot, which they claim was used to develop New Girl. Their script was based on Counts’ experiences and had been shopped around. But Counts and Gold have said they were shocked to see New Girl debut with Zooey Deschanel as its star because it was so similar to their pilot.
The writers retained attorneys, who also happened to represent Jacob Kasdan and his family, the director and a producer of New Girl. Kasdan then was not one of the defendants. Their attorneys told Counts and Gold in writing of their conflict and said they could not sue Kasdan on their behalf, for reasons covered, say, in a law school Legal Professions class. But, since the plaintiffs did not then intend to sue Kasdan, everything seemed sound and counsel continued to represent them.
Fox subsequently offered them a $10,000 settlement, which they declined. The writers argued that, if their script were the basis for a hit show that was charging $231,570 for 30-second ad time in 2013, they might be awarded more. They “terminated” their relationship with their attorneys. They later argued, with different counsel and in an amended complaint to Judge Wilson, that he should consider the potential conflict and the negotiations for Fox’s settlement offer as reasons why their case had dragged on and he should allow them toll on the statute of limitations on their claim. He slapped down that argument and their contentions that their idea had been stolen and that parties who may have seen their pilot somehow had breached a contract with them, though the writers’ copyright infringement claims are still viable.