The arbitrator who ordered actress Charlotte Kirk not to disclose details of a confidential settlement agreement took a dubious view of Kirk’s claim that she was the victim of “sex trafficking.”
The arbitrator, retired judge Ann Kough, issued a confidential ruling on July 11 ordering Kirk, directors Joshua Newton and Neil Marshall, and attorney John Cowan, not to reveal information that had been part of a series of settlements in 2017. Under the agreements, details of Kirk’s sexual relationship with former Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, among other allegations, were to be kept confidential.
In the arbitrator’s ruling, made public in a filing in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, Kough described Kirk’s allegations as “casting couch sex.” She also noted that Kirk was seeking the freedom to speak out, but she had not returned the money she had been paid to remain silent.
Kirk, who stars in Marshall’s film “The Reckoning” and has had a handful of other roles, is at the center of two Hollywood sex scandals. In 2019, Tsujihara resigned after the Hollywood Reporter published text messages that revealed his affair with the actress. Ron Meyer, the vice chairman of NBCUniversal, resigned in August after admitting his own affair with a woman later identified as Kirk. He alleged that he was being extorted by third parties with threats that the affair would be made public.
According to court filings, Kirk and Newton, her then-boyfriend, signed a series of confidential agreements with Tsujihara, producer Brett Ratner, financier James Packer and producer Avi Lerner in 2017. In a draft complaint filed by Newton on Thursday, the director alleges that Kirk had been treated as a sexual pawn in the producers’ business dealings, and that she had been promised movie roles for sex.
Most notably, according to the complaint, Kirk alleges that she was coerced into having “non-consensual sex” with Tsujihara at the Bel-Air Hotel on Sept. 26, 2013, as consummation of a $450 million financing deal with Ratpac, Packer and Ratner’s company. Tsujihara denies the allegation, and his attorney has said that Tsujihara had only a brief and consensual affair with Kirk.
Under the settlements, Kirk was to be paid $3.3 million in installments over two years. In addition, she was to be offered three acting jobs or paid another $1.5 million. Kirk alleges she is still owed $1.8 million. The settlements also contained arbitration provisions, requiring any dispute to be settled confidentially rather than in a publicly filed lawsuit.
Since the agreements were signed, Kirk, Newton and Marshall have sought additional payments and threatened to make disclosures, according to the arbitrator’s ruling. Marshall, who is now Kirk’s fiancé, was not a party to the original confidentiality agreements.
The producers accused Kirk of breaching the agreement, and in June went to an emergency arbitration to obtain an injunction blocking Kirk and the directors from filing a lawsuit. They accused Kirk and the directors of “civil extortion.”
Kirk and the directors have argued that the confidentiality provision should be set aside under a California law that bars confidential settlements in suits involving felony-level sex acts.
But Kough ruled that the law did not apply because no lawsuit was ever filed, and because the allegations did not rise to the level of a felony.
“The conduct alleged, which was characterized as ‘sexual harassment’ at the time of the agreements but is now being characterized by Respondents as ‘sex trafficking’ is what has been known since the beginning of the motion picture industry as ‘casting couch’ sex,” Kough wrote. “The Emergency Arbitrator highly doubts that offering to help an actor with his/her career in exchange for sex, if that in fact occurred, could be prosecuted as commercial sex or sex trafficking.”
In granting the injunction, Kough ruled that the producers were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that Kirk and Newton had breached the confidentiality agreement.
“If proved, such conduct would also support a claim of civil extortion,” she wrote.
Meyer resigned from NBCUniversal on Aug. 18 after disclosing his affair with Kirk to the company. He also disclosed that others were seeking hush payments to keep the affair quiet. Meyer publicly alleged at the time that he was being extorted.
Newton filed a motion on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to vacate the arbitrator’s ruling. Newton’s attorney argued that he was engaged in pre-litigation settlement talks, and was not extorting anyone. His attorney attached both the arbitrator’s ruling and the draft civil complaint against Meyer and NBCUniversal, which also divulged allegations against Packer, Tsujihara, Ratner and Lerner.
In the draft complaint, Newton accused Meyer of breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and “civil RICO.” Newton alleged that Meyer had used him and his unfinished film “Nicole and O.J.” as a vehicle to keep Kirk silent about Meyer’s sexual misconduct.
The complaint also identifies Ratner, Tsujihara, Packer and Lerner as members of the “Ratner Sex Trafficking Syndicate.”
“They passed Kirk around like an inanimate sex toy, to impress and reward each other for their own perverted pleasure and male ego inflation, while dangling, just out of reach, promises to Kirk of a successful career as an actress as the irresistible carrot she could not resist,” the complaint states. “These promises turned out to be nothing more than the cynical instrumentalities of fraud designed to steal Kirk’s sex, and innocence, and human dignity from her.”
In the draft complaint, Newton alleges that Meyer’s actions have caused a “potentially career-ending destruction of Newton’s reputation.”
Marshall and Kirk filed their own motion to vacate the arbitrator’s ruling in September, which was kept under seal. The judge in that action, Christopher K. Lui, denied the motion in a ruling on Monday, and sent the case back to arbitration. Lui also set a Nov. 18 hearing to impose a $1,000 sanction on Larry Caldwell, who is Newton’s attorney, for filing unsealed documents in the case.
“Judge Lui couldn’t have been any clearer: these claims have no place in court,” said Martin Singer, who represents Ratner, Packer and Lerner. “The latest allegations are specious, defamatory and were created only recently in a flimsy shakedown attempt… resulting in these individuals being sued for civil extortion. While Kirk, Newton and Marshall keep manufacturing ever-escalating claims to gain media attention and attack my clients, this latest narrative is contradicted by the facts — and should be believed by no one.”
Update: This story has been updated to correct the terms of the initial settlement agreement.