Actor sues for $100 mil plus punitive damages

Charlie Sheen launching a $100 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre over his exile from “Two and a Half Men” boasts the fiery tone of betrayal and deception that has defined the thesps ongoing media onslaught and sets the stage for the most electric Hollywood court case in years.

However, the first battle is likely to be over the venue for adjudication of the contract despite. Warner Bros. asserts that the contract stipulates that any dispute will be submitted to arbitration.

“If so, this complaint isn’t likely to go anywhere until the arbitration process has run its course,” USC law professor Jack Lerner said. “Arbitration is usually faster than a court trial, but in this case it could still go on for weeks or even months.”

JAMS, the independent arbitrator in this case, would render a presumably binding decision outside of a courtroom, but the lawsuit declared that plaintiffs “demand a trial by jury in this matter.” According to The Associated Press, Sheen lawyer Marty Singer said “Sheen’s contract included a clause requiring certain disputes to be settled outside the court system through arbitration, but that the issues raised in (the) lawsuit are not covered by the contract clauses.”

There is also always the possibility of a settlement, but the animosity between the two camps makes that seem anything but imminent.

Singer filed suit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court over the suspension of production on “Two and a Half Men,” his termination and loss of wages, naming $100 million plus punitive damages as its target goal. The lawsuit also says that Sheen is pursuing claims on behalf of the entire cast and crew of “Men” over the eight episodes shelved from the 2010-11 season. No crew members are plaintiffs in the suit, however.

Sheen’s filing comes three days after Warner Bros. formerly terminated the actor in an 11-page statement that cited his “incapacity,” as well as a clause relating to “moral turpitude” and Sheen’s statements that he would no longer work with Lorre.

Warner Bros. offered no comment on Sheen’s lawsuit, first reported by TMZ, though Lerner believes the studio’s actions make their own statement.

“At the end of the day, the fact is that Warner Bros. very likely left millions and millions of dollars in revenue on the table when they terminated Sheen’s contract — and that speaks volumes,” Lerner said.

“The law that applies here is not that complicated,” he added. “The difficult part is resolving the many factual questions. … That’s a recipe for lots of litigation.”

The bombast that accompanies all things Sheen these days is present in the opening statement of the suit.

“Defendant Chuck Lorre, one of the richest men in television,” it reads, “believes himself to be so wealthy and powerful that he can unilaterally decide to take money away from the dedicated cast and crew … in order to serve his own ego and self-interest, and make the star of the series the scapegoat for Lorre’s own conduct.”

The suit includes the allegation that Warners and Lorre decided to suspend production before Sheen’s public criticism of Lorre began, and that their rationale for blaming him for the suspension is a smokescreen.

A major foundation of the action, referenced throughout, is the contention that Lorre did not have scripts ready for shooting when Sheen was ready to return to work, calling it “a unilateral breach” of Lorre’s showrunner agreement as well as “direct interference” with Sheen’s contract.

It is also asserted that WB terminated Sheen’s employment even as the studio “accused Mr. Sheen of having physical and mental disabilities,” which constitutes unlawful discrimination.

“Even if the stated grounds for terminating Mr. Sheen’s contract actually existed (which Mr. Sheen denies), Warner Bros.’ actions would under the circumstances constitute wrongful termination,” the suit reads.

The suit also argues that Warner Bros. actively sought to extend its contract with Sheen while he was facing felony charges. In its termination letter, Warners noted that the fact that Sheen had been seeking professional help for his substance abuse problems was a factor in its willingness to extend his “Men” deal. However, Sheen maintains he was sober at the time he was fired.

“The recent attempt to terminate Mr. Sheen’s contract is nothing more than a transparent attempt to avoid the obligation to pay him for a minimum number of episodes under his ‘pay or play’ contract,” said the suit, adding that Sheen “also seeks to remedy the harm defendants are causing to the crew and cast who have been damaged.”

Warner Bros. said last week it would pay crew members for the four episodes that were sidelined by Sheen’s termination, though not for the other four that were shelved in January when the eighth season of “Men” was first shortened.

The financial stakes for the parties involved were huge even before the latest legal action. Including profit participation, Sheen is losing approximately $14.4 million just for the eight unshot episodes of 2010-11, let alone his salary for the following season.

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of the approximately $4.5 million licensing fee that CBS has been paying Warners per episode for “Men.” That fee — among other things — now figures to be renegotiated if the series continues, amid speculation over who might replace Sheen.

The suit does not appear to make an issue of a public comment by Sheen this week that he would be owed revenue from “Men” even if it continues without him, as was the case for Michael J. Fox when he was replaced on “Spin City” by Sheen.

Rather, much of the focus is on what is portrayed as a long-simmering beef Sheen had with Lorre’s conduct.

“For no legitimate reason whatsoever, Lorre required Mr. Sheen to perform multiple takes of scenes during filming solely to harass and frustrate Mr. Sheen and exhibit that Lorre was in control,” it says, also noting Lorre’s onscreen vanity cards as evidence of harassment.

“The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Lorre are as recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen’s rantings in the media,” Lorre attorney Howard Weitzman said in response. “These accusations are simply imaginary. This lawsuit is about a fantasy ‘lottery’ payday for Charlie Sheen.”

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