Arbitrator sez co. committed fraud, reneged on contract

A Los Angeles Superior Court has confirmed a $30.5 million arbitration award against Village Roadshow Pictures (USA), on behalf of producers Lance Hool and Charles Meeker.

The decision by independent arbitrator George E. Marshall was issued July 5, but required confirmation by the L.A. Superior Court to take effect.

Marshall stated Village Roadshow Pictures (USA) committed fraud in failing to live up to the terms of a 1996 settlement agreement.

The Oct. 17 confirmation comes after eight years of lawsuits, stretching back to a five-year production deal that Hool and Meeker signed with the now-defunct Orion Pictures.

In 1996, Australian parent company Village Roadshow Ltd. agreed to settle a 1994 lawsuit filed by Hool and Meeker. That suit alleged that Village Roadshow participated in the misappropriation of the film “Bullet,” which Village Roadshow produced in 1996 starring Mickey Rourke.

Hool and Meeker had intended the title to be the first in a 35-picture deal they were preparing to finalize with the now-defunct Orion Pictures. The producers lost the Orion deal and their lawsuit against Village Roadshow claimed more than $100 million in losses.

Greg Coote, who was then CEO of Village Roadshow Pictures (USA) and a VRL director, executed the agreement.

Under the settlement, Coote agreed that the company would finance at least two features for Hool and Meeker to produce, with budgets of at least $6 million. If those films broke even, Village Roadshow agreed to finance a third.

If Village Roadshow rejected all projects brought to them by the producers, the company would provide Hool and Meeker with two scripts to produce.

Village Roadshow did reject Hool and Meeker’s projects, but the arbitrator found that Village Roadshow provided them with no alternate scripts.

Then, in 1998, Village Roadshow sent the producers a letter stating that they were signing a production deal with Warner Bros. Pictures and were no longer in the business of producing low-budget films such as the ones outlined in the settlement. Instead, Village Roadshow offered to pay Hool and Meeker $650,000.

Hool and Meeker rejected the offer and filed a second lawsuit in October 1998.

The plaintiffs were represented by Patrick A. Cathcart, a partner with Hancock, Rothert & Bunshoft. The arbitration took more than 18 months to complete.

“This is an extremely important result,” Cathcart said in a statement. “The Superior Court judge has ordered that judgment be entered against Village Roadshow, which brings Mr. Meeker and Mr. Hool closer to collecting the award and being compensated for the horrendous actions of this mutinational entertainment conglomerate.”

Calls to Village Roadshow Pictures (USA) attorneys were not returned late Monday. It was not clear what further legal recourse Village Roadshow has at this point.

An unusual wrinkle in the case is that entity VRP (USA) is no longer a going concern. When Hool and Meeker filed their original suit in 1994, that was the name of the entity under which its Australian parent company, Village Roadshow Ltd., did business in the U.S.

VRL is cited in the 1998 lawsuit, but not in the arbitration. However, plaintiff’s attorney Patrick Cathcart intends to file a motion that will hold parent company VRL responsible for the award.

Arbitration began in late 1999 and was initiated by Village Roadshow, after the company invoked the arbitration clause in its settlement agreement.

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