The latest legal wrinkle over Charlie Sheen’s $100 million suit against Warner Bros. and “Two and a Half Men” exec producer Chuck Lorre is a dispute over whether the case should be waged in a public trial or a private arbitration.
Sheen’s attorneys, led by Martin Singer, argued before Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman in Santa Monica on Tuesday that he should have a public trial, even though his contract contains an arbitration provision.
They are citing several standards including that the arbitration clause was “unconscionable,” or that he was denied a meaningful right to negotiate the terms.
“We had no ability to negotiate this arbitration provision at all,” Singer told the court, adding that Sheen’s leverage when his contract was first hashed out in 2004 was much different than when the show became a hit.
Singer also said that the provision was against public policy and that an arbitration, pending before the JAMS service, would curb punitive damages, limit discovery and leave Sheen paying the substantial costs of the proceedings. He’s arguing that Warner Bros. Television demands such a clause as a non-negotiable, “take it or leave it” element in virtually all of its talent contracts.
Sheen’s suit, filed after he was terminated from “Two and a Half Men,” says that he lived up to his contract and faults Lorre for the show’s abbreviated season.
Studios traditionally avoid public trials, as the inevitable flow of dealmaking details can sometimes prove thorny and embarrassing. Juries also have had a tendency to be swayed by celebrity litigants.
John Spiegel, representing Warner Bros., challenged the notion that Sheen was not in a position to negotiate, pointing to his 2010 contract renewal in which he commanded $2 million per episode and demanded a private hairstylist, use of a private jet and exclusion from participating in each episode’s first-day table read.
He also said that Sheen was able to narrow the scope of his contract’s morals clause from one that defines a violation as one that “brings a performer into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule” to one tied to committing a felony.
He said that Sheen’s ability to extract such terms “negates any sense of a lack of bargaining power.”
“Charlie had a very long list of things he wanted,” but in the negotiation he “never mentions a thing about an arbitration clause.”
Although Sheen’s contract was with Warner Bros., Lorre, as a defendant in the suit, is arguing that the issues are “inextricably intertwined” and “should be arbitrated together,” said his attorney, Howard Weitzman.
Goodman gave no indication of when he would make a decision.
After what proved to be a long hearing, Weitzman and Singer, both veterans of high-profile celebrity trials, shared some gentle ribbing as they faced the press.
“If we could get 12 of Charlie Sheen’s peers, that would be an interesting trial,” Weitzman said.
“You know what I expect to hear?” Singer asked. “We’re winning.”