Sides spinning ‘Sahara’ ruling

Verdict in Crusader, Cussler case a mirage?

Philip Anschutz’s Crusader Entertainment has claimed victory in its battle with author Clive Cussler over the 2005 feature “Sahara.”

However, Cussler’s attorney, litigator Bert Fields, says that isn’t so.

On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Shook denied a motion by Cussler to use a portion of the jury’s May special verdict form as the basis for an $8.5 million judgment in Cussler’s favor. The judge ruled the jury’s answer was advisory and not a basis for a judgment.

In May, after more than three months of courtroom sparring and eight days of jury deliberations, an L.A. Superior Court jury awarded Crusader a total of $5 million in damages for past and future economic loss. But the jury’s special verdict form also stated Crusader was obligated to pay Cussler about $8.5 million for the rights to the second of two Cussler books in the Dirk Pitt adventure series.

In a statement, Crusader attorney Marvin Putnam of O’Melveny & Myers said: “This court order and the jury verdict are an overwhelming — and well-deserved — victory for our client. The attempt to misconstrue the jury’s findings into a claim that Cussler somehow was still entitled to the $8.5 million for a second book were rightly deemed absurd by the Court.”

Fields, however, vigorously denied the case was over or that Crusader, now known as Bristol Bay Prods., had won. Fields acknowledged that the motion based on the verdict form was denied. He said, however, that Crusader strategically dismissed its claim that Cussler was not entitled to the $8.5 million with prejudice after the jury’s verdict. As a result of the dismissal, says Fields, Cussler is entitled to the money. The court also has not decided who is the prevailing party, Fields said.

The legal brawling on “Sahara” 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 badmouthing the project to his fans. Cussler sought $40 million in damages from Crusader. Crusader asked for $100 million from Cussler.

On the eve of trial, Crusader revealed that the sales figures on the Pitt series were vastly inflated; instead of selling 100 million copies, the real number was closer to 40 million. Crusader claimed it never would have paid the unprecedented sum of $10 million apiece in 2001for two of the books in the series. At the time of trial, Crusader already had paid the license fee for “Sahara” and the first installment of the amount due on the second book.

“Sahara,” which starred Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz and was directed by Breck Eisner, grossed $68.7 million in domestic box office, but wound up losing more than $80 million when all the costs were tallied.