Freelance writer Dominic Patten is a Deadline contributor
UPDATE, 3:31 PM: ABC’s VP Litigation Jean Zoeller said on the stand today that she would “absolutely not” tell anyone to delete or erase any correspondence or documents related to Nicollette Sheridan being fired from Desperate Housewives. Zoeller’s testimony came in direct response to potential bombshell testimony earlier today by Michael Reinhart, the Housewives crew member who said he received an email telling him to “possibly” delete any correspondence and documents concerning Sheridan leaving the show. Reinhart said he deleted the email immediately and court officials are examining the hard drive.
Under questioning from defense attorney Adam Levin, Zoeller, who sat at the defense table every day of the two-week trial, told the jury she sent out four document preservation memos to make sure everything related to the matter was maintained. Those were sent out to ever expanding distribution lists on June 30, 2009, twice on April 6, 2010 — when Sheridan filed her lawsuit — and again on July 6, 2010. Those who received the emails were asked to “forward on to other people with knowledge of the matter.” Zoeller said that she sent the first of the memos because she “became aware of a claim Ms. Sheridan had against Mr. Cherry and Touchstone Television, also known as ABC Studios.”
Zoeller was followed on the stand by Alex Myers from Disney’s Electronic Discovery department. Myers detailed the extensive and pervasive efforts by the company to harness all correspondence and documents on the Sheridan matter on company computers and servers as well as personal accounts and computers of staff members and contract employees.
PREVIOUS, 10:41 AM: Longtime Desperate Housewives construction coordinator Michael Reinhart said today that he “was trying to get the truth out” when he took the stand in Nicollette Sheridan’s wrongful termination and battery trial. Reinhart was added as a last-minute witness after he left a voicemail for Sheridan’s lawyer Mark Baute over the weekend saying he was inadvertently copied on an email that indicated ABC planned to delete references to the killing off Sheridan’s Edie Britt character. He says that email came after Sheridan filed her initial lawsuit against against Housewives creator/executive producer Marc Cherry, ABC Studios and ABC.
In halting testimony, Reinhart — whose voicemail said there was “definitely a conspiracy to cover up correspondence” related to Sheridan’s firing — said that the only words he recalls now from the spring 2010 email are “Nicollette Sheridan,” “IT” and “delete”, though he did confirm the bulk of what he told Baute on Sunday. Judge Elizabeth Allen White ordered Reinhart’s computer to be brought in for forensic examination. He testified that he “received an email, possibly in error, regarding possible deletion of information on hard drives in relation to this trial.” Reinhart, who expressed in court and to Baute concerns about “retaliation” for bring this information to light, said he immediately deleted the email because “I felt it wasn’t intended for me, I didn’t feel it was my business and I didn’t want to make it my business.”
This last-minute testimony in a case expected to be wrapped up today could pose problems for all concerned. White has given the defense half a day to examine Reinhart’s computer. Depending on what they find, the case could extend further in the week, risking a possible mistrial.
Earlier in the morning in a hearing outside the presence of the jury, Reinhart said he contacted Baute on Sunday because the email had been “gnawing” at him for a year and a half. Visibly uncomfortable on the stand, Reinhart told the judge and jury that while he might have been confused about what the email was about, he felt it was important information to reveal to Sheridan’s team because he wanted “equal footing for both parties.”
Reinhart, who said he spent part of Sunday and Monday avoiding a subpoena and the media, told defense lawyer Adam Levin that he told his wife and Housewives production designer Erik Carlson as well as another crew member about the email. In court, it was also revealed that in trying to convince Reinhart to come forward, Sheridan’s lawyer offered to help him find work for himself and “my crew” if Reinhart was blacklisted by potential employers after Housewives ends for good in the next few weeks.