Court upholds WB argument for arbitration

A Los Angeles judge Wednesday rejected an initial effort by Charlie Sheen’s legal team to keep his lawsuit against Chuck Lorre and Warner Bros. from going into arbitration, but they still desire to see his side of the dispute get the full airing of a public trial.

There’s a reason for the strategy: Sheen’s suit is focused on Lorre, not the actor’s many public proclamations of the past month. It rests significantly on a brash contention that Lorre was actively trying to sabotage production on CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”

Throughout the 30-page filing made March 10 in Los Angeles Superior Court are numerous claims that Lorre had stopped production of scripts for “Men” before Sheen’s behavior became an issue, and that Warner Bros. not only accommodated Lorre but conspired with him for financial reasons to make Sheen the scapegoat.

“They did so because of Lorre’s significant influence upon them as a result of his role as creator of multiple primetime programs from which Warner Bros. and CBS reap huge profits,” this suit reads. “Lorre is the proverbial ‘800-pound gorilla’ as far as WB and CBS are concerned.”

Though they did not comment for this report, the Lorre and WB camps bluntly refute this, placing responsibility for the series’ suspension squarely on Sheen.

“Sheen’s lawsuit is primarily fiction with regard to the allegations about Chuck Lorre,” said Lorre attorney Howard Weitzman. “To state Mr. Lorre was responsible for undermining production of the show ignores reality. We believe Warner Bros. was completely justified in terminating Mr. Sheen given his intentional and willful conduct.”

Warners and Weitzman have stated that, per the dispute resolution clause in Sheen’s contract, the arbitrator will render the verdict.

Among the chief issues in the suit is what happened after Sheen voluntarily entered a rehabilitation program held at his residence beginning Jan. 28. That day, CBS, Warner Bros. and Lorre announced that production was being put on hiatus, saying jointly in a statement that they were “profoundly concerned for his health and well-being and support his decision.”

Subsequently, Sheen declared himself ready to return to work Feb. 14. But, according to Sheen’s attorney Marty Singer, the actor was told that no scripts were ready.

Singer notes that during that hiatus, a decision was also made to reduce the 24-episode order for “Men” to 20 and end production of season eight on March 25 instead of the original April 8 date. This was ostensibly in response to Sheen’s condition, but Singer emphatically maintains that Sheen was always completely capable of working, and that for no reason should Sheen be held accountable for any reduction in “Men” episodes.

“This is called Spin City,” Singer told Variety last week. “That is a ridiculous concept. Nobody said (at the time) there was a problem with Charlie. All they said was Chuck was going to work (only) another four weeks, and that’s it. It’s a ridiculous, absurd excuse.”

Singer argued that because the next scheduled production week for “Men” was originally set for Jan. 31, Lorre should have had no problem having a script ready by Feb. 14.

The suit reads, “Lorre had no right to unilaterally discontinue the production of shooting scripts, and thereby interrupt the production schedule.”

Insiders with “Men” and Warner Bros. rebut this argument. They say that scripts were in progress and that one would have been ready for the Jan. 31 return date, but that the suspension of production on Jan. 28 included the series’ writers.

Once Sheen went into rehab, Lorre and Warners appear to have had no intention of resuming production on “Men” before Feb. 28 — that just because Sheen decided Feb. 14 was the day did not mean that it was so.

Implicit in WB’s reasoning is the belief that two weeks wasn’t sufficient rehab and recovery time for Sheen. Though Singer said Sheen was sober, others had concerns about taping based on his condition as well as his appearance. Both sides stipulate that the actor had significant weight loss.

The Sheen lawsuit doesn’t directly address the question of why, even if “Men” were beset by “Lorre’s inflated ego, laziness and ill-will toward Mr. Sheen and his perceived lifestyle” (as the suit says), it would not have been in the defendants’ interest to simply have others on the writing staff finish the scripts when production was active.

For Singer, the larger point remains that from the moment in May that Sheen overcame initial reluctance and signed his contract extension, there was never a time when Sheen wasn’t willing to work, and that CBS and Warners pushed him to, even as his behavior raised eyebrows in the tabloids.

That leads into another leading issue of the conflict: whether WB had cause to fire Sheen without pay.

Among other references in its March 7 termination letter, WB cited a clause that can be invoked when Sheen “has committed an act which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude … (or) to the extent such event interferes with performer’s ability to fully and completely render all material services,” notwithstanding the fact that the studio had not found cause to dispatch with Sheen when he behaved questionably in the past.

Neither side in this case disputes that there is an arbitration clause in Sheen’s contract — in fact, Singer’s filing in pursuit of the TRO included that clause verbatim. However, Singer maintains that the current dispute falls outside the scope of that clause.

Warner Bros. cites a clause in the contract saying that even “disputes over … the scope of the agreement under which arbitration is sought … shall be submitted to and ruled on by the arbitrator.”

Singer’s filing expresses concern that JAMS no longer can be considered a neutral party, given that it stands to receive a financial benefit from handling the case rather than allowing it to go to court.

In the meantime, Sheen has cemented plans for his live “My Violent Torpedo of Truth” stage tour, scheduled to begin April 2 in Detroit and continue through 16 other cities into May.

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