Judge: Publicists’ suit against HFPA can proceed

Response ordered in 20 days from HFPA, Philip Berk

A Los Angeles judge is refusing to throw out a suit filed against the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. by its former publicist Michael Russell and his partner Stephen LoCascio.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin C. Brazile ordered that the HFPA and its former president, Philip Berk, answer Russell’s complaint within 20 days.

Russell and LoCascio filed a wrongful termination suit against the HFPA in January, 2010, alleging that they were dropped as the org’s longtime press reps after raising red flags about the awards process. Brazile found that there were “sufficient facts” for the case to go forward.

“Plaintiffs allege that they reported violations of law — specifically, that members of HFPA were engaged in a payola scheme in violation of Penal Code 641.3, which would then threaten Defendant’s tax exempt status — up the chain to their employer and to Defendant Berk. Plaintiffs then allege that they were terminated for doing so.”

Joe Campo, attorney for the HFPA, said in a statement, “Yesterday, the court rejected the HFPA’s most recent legal objections to the Michael Russell Group and Stars for a Cause lawsuits. In essence, Judge Kevin Brazile determined that he needs factual evidence from upcoming depositions before he can issue an order of summary judgment on the claims, dismissing the litigation in advance of a trial before a jury. That remains our goal and the decision of Wednesday morning in no way diminishes our expectation in that regard.”