UPDATE, 10:01 AM: The start date for the multimillion-dollar jury trial was pushed back to January 25 today by Judge Gregory Alarcon. It had been set to begin January 14. Based on a tentative ruling circulated earlier by the judge that granted rights to CBS to examine Bellisario’s medical records and take depositions from three of his doctors, the studio sought to have the start date pushed back until at least February 2013. Bellisario’s lawyer Ronald Nessim argued to keep the start date as close to the original as possible. Both sides and the judge acknowledged that the upcoming holidays, the court’s crowded schedule and the time needed for both sided to conduct interviews would push the case forward. “A week before a trial of this magnitude I don’t want to be taking doctors’ depositions, I want to be working on my opening argument”, CBS Studios lawyer Scott Edelman told the court. The judge noted the tight schedule, and urged both sides to find a way to strike a deal; at one point, Edelman accused Nessim of being a “Christmas Scrooge” for his proposed compressed schedule. The date was eventually scheduled from the bench. It is likely Bellisario and his wife will also be interviewed by both sides about his medical condition. A final status conference before the trial is set for January 18.
PREVIOUS, 9:01 AM: Lawyers for Don Bellisario and CBS are set to face off at a hearing over the producer’s multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the network for profits from NCIS: Los Angeles. At issue this morning in LA Superior Court downtown is whether the JAG and NCIS creator’s recently revealed neurological disorder will delay the trial. Despite having made more than $116 million from his CBS shows over the years, Bellisario sued last April over breach of contract and the covenant of good faith for profits from NCIS: LA. This morning, CBS wants Judge Gregory Alarcon to push back the January 14 trial start date so it can look at Bellisario’s medical records and talk to his doctors to determine whether his “water on the brain” condition could have prevented him from performing his duties as a network showrunner. Lawyers for the 77-year-old Bellisario, who was let go from NCIS in 2007 after star Mark Harmon threatened to quit, want to squash that attempt, a move CBS has called “stonewalling” in legal documents for “trying to leverage Bellisario’s medical condition in their own favor.”
In August, Bellisario’s lawyers revealed the producer had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus earlier in the summer. The condition can cause disorientation and memory loss. Suffering from those symptoms, the former producer had an operation August 17. Based on that, Bellisario’s lawyer Ronald Nessim filed a motion in October seeking to have the trial date moved up before the former producer’s health further deteriorated. Even though CBS didn’t oppose the motion, the judge rejected it last month because he didn’t feel he had enough medical information about Bellisario and his recovery to make a decision. Today’s hearing is in part to bring more information before the court so the judge can have some of his concerns addressed. There is a chance the judge might decide, based on Bellisario’s condition, to dismiss the whole case, but that is unlikely.
Since the NCIS creator first filed his case last year, the conflict has revolved around conflicting definitions of what constitutes a “spinoff,” what kind of spinoff NCIS: LA is and which one of the three agreements the producer had with the studio is the basis for the dispute. In the summer of 2011, the court blunted Bellisario’s 2002 contract based on an 18-month statute of limitations. This June, based on an interpretation of the term “herein,” Alarcon dismissed Bellisario’s claims to NCIS: LA revenue under the 2006 agreement between the producer and CBS. That leaves an initial 1992 agreement between the parties as the remaining point of contention.
On another front, and not before the court today, CBS is also seeking definition about what the two sides are really arguing over. Last week, CBS filed a motion (read it here) seeking to have the “Plaintiff’s sole remaining case of action” dismissed or “the Court must conclude that the 2002 Term Deal controls the parties’ rights in NCIS: LA and thus Plaintiff’s First Cause of Action based on the 1992 Term Deal fails to state a claim.” The studio is seeking a hearing in early January, before the trial is scheduled to start, to get a ruling on its motion.