A stunning and already contested $179 million arbitration award in the Bones profit participation lawsuit may ripped into Fox’s Peter Rice and Dana Walden today. Yet, the CEO who is about to formally become their new boss just did the Hollywood equivalent of Jay Z’s “Dirt off Your Shoulder.”
“Peter Rice and Dana Walden are highly respected leaders in this industry, and we have complete confidence in their character and integrity” said Disney chieftain Bob Iger Wednesday after the decision by Peter D. Lichtman became public. “Disney had no involvement in the arbitration, and we understand the decision is being challenged and will leave it to the courts to decide the matter,” the CEO added.
In the arbitrator’s award ruling, former LA Superior Court judge Lichtman specifically and damningly sights Rice, a “disingenuous” Walden and Fox TV chair Gary Newman as appearing “to have given false testimony in an attempt to conceal their wrongful acts.” With the big bucks being potentially paid out to Bones stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz and EP Barry Josephson, the arbitrator also makes a point of staining Fox as having a “company-wide culture and an accepted climate that enveloped an aversion for the truth.”
Even as Disney’s $71.3 billion purchase of the bulk of Fox moves into the final stretch, Rice and Walden have already been named to senior TV positions at the very soon-to-be greatly expanded House of Mouse. The 21st Century Fox president and Fox Television Group chairman will become key Iger lieutenants as Chairman, Walt Disney Television and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks and Chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, respectively.
“Many of the witnesses, including Ms. Walden, Mr. Newman, Mr. Bramhall, Mr. Ligouri, Mr. Pearson and Mr. Rice, appear to have given false testimony in an attempt to conceal their wrongful acts,” Lichtman’s 68-page award point blankly says. In a footnote, it also says: “The Arbitrator is convinced that perjury was committed by the Fox witnesses.”
Fox sidestepped that potential legal pothole and seemingly are shrugging off the over $50 million in non-punitive damages that were awarded to the trio and Reichs. What 21st Century Fox did say in court papers of their own placed in the court docket today is that they are appealing the nearly $128 million in punitive damages that were also awarded.
“Fox will not allow this flagrant injustice, riddled with errors and gratuitous character attacks, to stand and will vigorously challenge the ruling in a court of law,” the still Rupert Murdoch owned company said, as it retained Hollywood TKO attorney Daniel Petrocelli plus Molly Lens of O’Melveny & Myers on board for the appeal.
“What we have exposed in this case is going to profoundly change the way Hollywood does business for many years to come,” declared John Berlinski, who repped Boreanaz, Deschanel and Bones EP and author Kathy Reichs, in reference to Fox and Hulu, in which Bones‘ digital rights became part of the arbitration.
“The punitive damages assessed by the arbitrator reflect the severity and reprehensibility of Fox’s conduct and that of many senior Fox executives,” Josephson lawyer Dale Kinsella noted Wednesday of the “wrongdoing” Fox and its trio of execs are labeled with.
This response by Iger comes just hours after petition paperwork from lawyers from the Bones team and an appeal by Fox were both entered into the court docket. However, perhaps more significantly, it also comes on the day that Brazilian regulators signed off on the last significant impediment to the multi-billon dollar acquisition of most of Fox’s primary assets.
A sign-off that means within less than two weeks there will be a New Fox and a bigger Disney A sign-off from the South American nation that may see huge corporate moves in Tinseltown, but clearly no end to the nearly four-year Bones battle for profits from the 12 season series that wrapped up in 2017.