'Sahara' trial nears end

Concluding his closing argument before the jury, Clive Cussler’s attorney, Bert Fields, harped on the absence of Crusader principal Philip Anschutz.

“These are two men with two different stories,” Fields told the jury. “(The other side) will tell you that Crusader, not Anschutz, is the party, but Anschutz is the motor, and he has never been here.” Portions of Anschutz’s video deposition were played during trial, but he did not testify.

The close comes after nearly three months of testimony over who was to blame for the disastrous “Sahara,” an action adventure pic based on one of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books that lost nearly $100 million. Cussler claims his extensive and carefully negotiated script approval rights were violated; Crusader claims Cussler’s unreasonable refusal to approve script changes and subsequent disparagement of the film caused the project to tank.

Running through a laundry list of Crusader’s claims, Fields told the jury that Cussler could not have committed fraud by claiming he sold 100 million books because there was no such representation in the lengthy contract. The jury heard days of testimony about the number of books sold in which Crusader execs claimed that if they’d known the true number was closer to 40 million and not the 100 million blurbed on the book jackets, they never would have paid Cussler $10 million per book.

Fields also denied that Cussler had ever leaked the $10 million figure to either Liz Smith or Variety. He similarly denied that Cussler had ever promised to promote the film.

The promise was allegedly made in a private meeting between Anschutz and Cussler that Fields contends never happened.

He also denied that Cussler’s public remarks expressing his disappointment with the script breached the contract. As for the claim that Cussler exercised his script approval rights in bad faith, Fields put all blame on producer Karen Baldwin. “She told Clive one thing (that everyone loved the scripts he had written) and told everyone else something different (that the scripts were awful). It was an act of breathtaking duplicity.”

Referring to Cussler’s often fumbling answers during several days on the witness stand and irascible manner, Fields concluded by asking the jury to decide in his client’s favor. “You’ve gotten to know Clive. He sat there and took a pounding. He has a bad memory, and he’s not articulate. But I believe you’ll find he’s not an evil man.”

Crusader presents its closing argument today.

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