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Cussler decision split

Jury divided in 'Sahara' spat

After more than three months of courtroom sparring and eight days of jury deliberations, the verdict in author Clive Cussler’s battle against Philip Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment over the 2005 feature “Sahara” came down to a split decision, with both sides claiming victory.

The verdict returned by the Los Angeles Superior Court jury Tuesday afternoon awards Crusader a total of $5 million in damages for past and future economic loss. But the jury also found that Crusader is obligated to pay Cussler about $8.5 million for the rights to the second of two Cussler books that Crusader licensed for a planned film series based on his Dirk Pitt adventure series.

The jury further decided that Cussler is entitled to the film rights to his books based on a finding that, under the terms of his contract, principal photography on “Sahara” did not start on time. The jury did not award Crusader any punitive damages.

The jury found that Cussler knowingly made false representations to Crusader with claims that the Pitt series had sold 100 million copies rather than the real figure of around 40 million. Crusader licensed two Pitt books in 2001 for an unprecedented $10 million apiece, a figure Crusader attorney Marvin Putnam maintained company execs never would have agreed to had they known the real sales figures.

Judge John Shook will schedule a hearing later to determine whether Cussler is entitled to the additional fee from Crusader given the findings of misrepresentation. The jury’s verdict was held up by the complexity of the special verdict form, which in essence asked them to advise the judge on whether they thought Crusader was still liable for the fee for the second book.

Both sides claimed victory on Tuesday.

“We’re $3.5 million ahead and Clive got his rights back,” said veteran showbiz litigator Bert Fields, who represented Cussler. Fields added that because of the jury’s finding that Cussler intentionally misrepresented book sales, he would not rule out an appeal.

Putnam maintained that Crusader was vindicated because of the findings of Cussler’s intentional misconduct and the fact that the only damages definitely awarded at this point were the $5 million to Crusader.

“We consider it a great victory,” Putnam said. He added that the disparity between the findings of misrepresentation and the damages would make him consider an appeal, particularly if the court finds Cussler is owed for the second book.

Cussler, 75, said he was pleased with the verdict but wasn’t ready to gamble again on turning one of his many books into a film.

“There won’t be another Clive Cussler film, at least not during my lifetime,” he said.

The jury foreman told Daily Variety that there was no single bit of testimony that decided the case for the jury, and they did not have a preordained idea of the verdict. He said there were “obviously problems on both sides,” which was a consideration for jurors in determining the verdict. He added that there never was any serious consideration of awarding the huge damages each side sought.

The legal brawling began before the film was released, when Cussler sued Crusader, claiming it had breached his original agreement regarding his right to have script approval over the film. Crusader countersued, claiming that Cussler hurt the film’s prospects through his unreasonable script demands and by bad-mouthing the project to his fans. Cussler sought $40 million in damages from Crusader. Crusader asked for $100 million from Cussler.

“Sahara” grossed about $68.7 million at the domestic box office but wound up losing more than $80 million when all the costs were tallied.

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