A month after the Empire co-creator agreed that Sean Penn’s $10 million defamation lawsuit against him should stay in state court in New York, Lee Daniels now wants the whole thing thrown out. On Thursday, the Oscar nominee filed a heavily exhibit-supported notice of motion to dismiss Penn’s big-bucks jury trial-seeking complaint of September 22.
“With fame, money and high-priced legal counsel, Penn has the power to buy most things,” says a memorandum of law accompanying the notice (read it here). “Fortunately for Daniels, the First Amendment is not for sale. It protects Daniels and others from lawsuits like this one, financially-draining attacks brought to punish free speech exercised to Penn’s chagrin.”
The two-time Oscar-winning actor took to the courts after becoming upset when Daniels used supposed “false and defamatory” language in an interview this year that strongly suggested Peen had abused women. “Ostensibly filed to protect his name from those who ‘aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense,’ Penn’s Complaint is merely a blunt force instrument wielded in an attempt to control the narrative of his life and to expunge alleged misdeeds sensationalized by the press for decades,” the memo notes in response.
Today’s filings also saw a plethora of exhibits including a bio of Penn’s ex-wife Madonna, a Google search and clippings that allege violence in Penn’s past relationships. This widely available material is important because, under NY State law, a defamation case has to prove Daniels truly knew that what he was saying about the Mystic River actor was false when he said it to The Hollywood Reporter.
In the piece, the often-outspoken Daniels lamented the public persona that Empire star Terrence Howard has acquired in some circles due past run-ins with the courts and other accusations from ex-wives. He “ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some f*ckin’ demon,” Daniels proclaimed. “That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”
Penn may have been perturbed by the remarks, but his lawsuit is even more damaging, Daniels’ legal reps say. “Worse yet, the Complaint attempts to silence Daniels’ honestly-held opinion, a contribution to the marketplace of ideas voiced during this nation’s agonizing debate about racial disparity and domestic violence,” asserts Daniels’ attorney James Sammataro. The Miami-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan lawyer has asked for a January 16 hearing on the motion.
Penn is represented by Mathew Rosengart and Anne Reddy of the L.A. offices of Greenberg Traurig, LLP.