Judge declares mistrial in Sheridan case

Jurors split 8 to 4 in favor of actress

Former “Desperate Housewives” actress Nicollette Sheridan’s wrongful termination trial ended Monday without a Hollywood ending, with a hung jury forcing a Los Angeles judge to declare a mistrial.

The good news for Sheridan was that the jury was split eight to four in her favor. But it was still one vote shy of the nine required for a verdict in a civil case.

What the mistrial means is that short of the key parties reaching a settlement, another trial is in the offing, although it’s unclear how quickly that will come.

Mark Baute, one of Sheridan’s attorneys, told reporters gathered at Los Angeles Superior Court that he was “110% sure” that they would proceed with a retrial.

Adam Levin, attorney for Disney and Touchstone, said, “We’re anxious to move forward with the trial, and we’re confident we will prevail.”

After deliberating since late Wednesday last week, the jury of nine women and three men reported “no movement” in their deadlock, with the vote split unchanged despite the weekend of time to ponder.

Judge Elizabeth Allen White polled each of them Monday to ask whether they thought further deliberations would be helpful, but they each said no. She then declared a mistrial and dismissed them after nearly three weeks on the case. The jurors had warned of a deadlock last Thursday and then again on Friday.

Sheridan sued Cherry and Touchstone Television in 2010, claiming that her character Edie Britt was written off the show in retaliation for complaining about a September 2008 incident in which Cherry struck her during a script dispute. Cherry denied the allegations, and said that he merely gave her a “tap” as part of direction for an upcoming scene.

Levin highlighted a series of witnesses, including former Touchstone chief Mark Pedowitz and ABC chief Steve McPherson, who testified that the decision to kill off Britt was made in May 2008 well before the incident.

But one of the jurors, Beverly Crosby, told reporters outside the courthouse that “it really came down to credibility for me.” Asked if she found Sheridan’s testimony credible, she said, “Yes.” On the stand, an emotional Sheridan described an angry Cherry giving her a “hard hit” on the head as she queried him about the removal of one of her character’s lines from the script.

Crosby suggested that Touchstone’s witnesses seemed “just a little bit” scripted, a point that Baute emphasized in his closing arguments.

Crosby, a retired elementary school principal, noted that one of the difficulties in the jury room was the lack of a “smoking gun,” although she also emphasized that they were asked to decide whether it was “more likely than not” that Sheridan was wrongfully terminated. “Retaliation can be very subtle,” she said.

She also said that Sheridan’s claim that she was “hit” and Cherry’s contention that he gave her a “tap” did not weigh on how she viewed what happened.

“I looked at the fact that she was struck without permission,” she said.

She also found fault with the way that Touchstone handled the investigation, in which a human resources official cleared Cherry of wrongdoing but had not interviewed him or Sheridan.

“To my estimate it wasn’t handled the way it should be handled,” Crosby said, referring several times to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines.

While she said there were “tense moments” in the jury room, she and another juror, Johnny Huynh, declined to talk about the motivations of the other jurors, who were reluctant to talk to the media. “Most debate centered on the credibility of witnesses,” she said.

Sheridan, who was seeking $5.7 million, did not speak to reporters afterward, although she waited along with a throng of reporters as the jury deliberated.

Baute described his client as “strong as an ox, pretty as a princess,” noting that they had come “up against a $50 billion conglomerate.”

“We came up one short,” he said. “We will do the dance again.”

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