EXCLUSIVE: One week after Georgia prosecutors sought a new arrest warrant for Midnight Rider director Randall Miller over probation violations stemming from the 2014 on-set death of Sarah Jones, the filmmaker’s lawyers are fighting back to stop potential return to jail for their client.
“The defense urges the court to deny the application for a warrant,” proclaims a June 2 memorandum from the Atlanta firm of Garland, Samuel & Loeb that was made public by the Peach State courts today.
As exclusively reported by Deadline on May 27, last summer Miller was the director of the independent feature comedy Higher Grounds in Serbia, UK and Columbia. Assistant District Attorney John Johnson told Deadline last Friday that Miller violated his probation by directing Higher Grounds.
Miller’s lawyers say that the filmmaker was well within his right to direct as long as he wasn’t in charge of safety – and they want a hearing ASAP to make that point to a Georgia judge. “I have been informed that there will be a court date established for Mr. Miller,” Brian Tukes, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Community Supervision tells Deadline. “I do not have any information as to when the date will be,” he concluded.
“The issue before the court is this: Did the special condition of probation prohibit Miller from serving as a Director in any movie, regardless of who was in charge of safety? Or was he prohibited from serving as a director, or in any other capacity in the production of a movie, if his role had any safety responsibilities?” long-time Miller lawyer Ed Garland and others declare in their seven-page filing earlier this week (READ IT HERE).
“The state apparently contends that Miller could not serve as a director, even if safety precautions were carved out of the Director’s responsibility and expressly assigned to another person,” they add. “The defense contends that Miller could serve as a director, as long as safety was entirely the responsibility of another individual.”
The Higher Grounds job began with just under six years of probation remaining on Miller’s 10-year sentence (until March 2025) for the death six years ago of 27-year-old camera assistant Jones on the Georgia set of Midnight Rider, a biopic of Greg Allman. On March 23, 2016, Wayne County Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison said the filmmaker is “prohibited from serving as director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.” (Read Miller’s probation document here.)
In seeking to stop an impending arrest of Miller in California, the director’s lawyers have invoked the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as one of many reasons to keep the cuffs off, so to speak.
“The arrest of Randy Miller in California where he lives would be in clear derogation of the principles that virtually every court in the country has advocated in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” they say.
“The court should take every measure that is reasonable to avoid the necessity of individuals being imprisoned, the court should take every measure to avoid the necessity of travel, and in this case, the court should take all reasonable measures to avoid the need to transport a prisoner from California to Jesup, Georgia, which would necessitate the constant quarantining of both Miller and his custodians as they travel across the country,” the filing continues.
Despite a spotted record in previous efforts to alter aspects of Miller’s probation requirements, It’s been both attorney Garland’s, and Higher Grounds EP and attorney Michael M. Smith’s argument all along that Miller didn’t violate his probation in making the vegan barista comedy overseas last July-August because he was never forbidden to direct. Their contention is that he just couldn’t direct and be in charge of safety at the same time – a duel role he seemingly did not play on the Kate Nash starring Higher Grounds.
In fact, Miller’s attorneys approached the Georgia Court of Appeals twice, in October 2018 and May 2019, following Judge Harrison’s decision in March 2018 to provide any leniency to Miller regarding the strict terms of his probation. On June 21, 2019, the Georgia Court of Appeals denied Miller’s motion for reconsideration. Regardless, he then continued to film Higher Grounds on July 9 in Serbia.
However, in November 2018, Miller was given unsupervised probation from the Brunswick Judicial Circuit’s Department of Community Supervision. This appears to been the justification for Miller and team to allow him to travel to overseas to film Higher Grounds, which he and his wife produced and financed. To cover safety issues, Miller’s production employed Jason Allen as the pic’s Assistant Director and Associate Producer in Charge of Safety. In addition, Higher Grounds was a DGA signatory production. Allen was given complete authority to oversee safety on the set by the DGA, and to shutdown production if scenes proved dangerous.
Upon learning of Miller getting back behind the camera, the parents of Sarah Jones have asked the Directors Guild of America to toss Miller out. “To us, his actions were blatantly defiant and egregiously disrespectful to the entire creative community, to the six crew members who were injured while filming Midnight Rider, and to the memory of Sarah Jones, who died on Mr. Miller’s set as a direct result of the unsafe conditions that he willfully and illegally created,” said Richard and Elizabeth Jones in a statement to Deadline on May 27.
The DGA has not responded to either the grieving parents or to Deadline about Miller’s continued membership in the Thomas Schlamme-led organization.