Monday, August 6, 2007
C.A. Applies Anti-SLAPP Statute to Interview of Brando’s Housekeeper
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The disposition of Marlon Brando’s estate was a matter of public interest for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Three reversed an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Hess, who denied a motion by Time Warner, Inc. and other defendants to strike Blanche Hall’s suit for what she claimed was an invasion of her privacy.
Hall was a longtime housekeeper for the actor, who named her in his will. When the will was filed for probate and Hall’s status as a beneficiary became known, a reporter for the since-cancelled “Celebrity Justice” television program interviewed Hall at her retirement home.
Hall, who was 82 years old and apparently suffering from dementia, said in the interview that she was not aware that Brando had died or that she was a beneficiary. In her complaint, she alleged that the reporter bypassed the home’s security measures and misrepresented himself as a relative in order to gain access, and filed a complaint that included claims for trespass, intrusion upon solitude, infliction of emotional distress, and elder abuse.
In denying the motion to strike, Hess ruled that the interview did not deal with a “public issue,” reasoning that while Brando was a public figure, Hall was neither a public figure per se nor a limited purpose public figure.
But Justice Walter Croskey, writing for Div. Three, said that Brando’s naming of his housekeeper as a beneficiary and her reaction were matters of widespread public interest whose reporting is protected by the anti-SLAPP statute.
The Court of Appeal originally reversed in an unpublished opinion filed July 11. The panel later granted rehearing on its own motion, but reached the same result in a published opinion filed Thursday.
Citing Brando’s long and successful career and the widespread interest in his death, which was reported on the front page of newspapers worldwide, the jurist wrote:
“The public’s fascination with Brando and widespread public interest in his personal life made Brando’s decisions concerning the distribution of his assets a public issue or an issue of public interest. Although Hall was a private person and may not have voluntarily sought publicity or to comment publicly on Brando’s will, she nevertheless became involved in an issue of public interest by virtue of being named in Brando’s will. The defendants’ television broadcast contributed to the public discussion of the issue by identifying Hall as a beneficiary and showing her on camera. We conclude that the acts from which the complaint arises, specified ante, constituted conduct in furtherance of the defendants’ right of free speech ‘in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.’”
Having established that their conduct involved a “public issue,” the defendants are entitled to have the action stricken unless the plaintiffs show that they will probably prevail on the merits, an issue that the trial court will have to address on remand, Croskey said.
The justice rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the denial should be upheld on the alternative ground that the motion was not heard within 30 days of being served. He explained that while the statute originally said the motion “shall be noticed for hearing” within 30 days, an urgency statute enacted in October 2005 says that the motion “shall be scheduled by the clerk of the court for a hearing” within 30 days.
The purpose of the change, Croskey noted, was to abrogate a Court of Appeal ruling that placed the burden on the moving party to obtain a timely hearing date or show that docket conditions made that impossible. Now, he explained, if the court clerk finds it necessary to schedule the motion beyond the 30-day period, the hearing is deemed timely.
Attorneys on appeal were Bruce Altschuld for the plaintiff, and Michael J. O’Connor, David E. Fink and Amanda M. Leith of White O’Connor Curry for the defendants, Time Warner, Inc.; Time Telepictures Television, and Harvey Levin Productions, Inc.
The case is Hall v. Time Warner, Inc., 07 S.O.S. 4882.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company