Thanks to a certain mace and a certain priest, things got pretty bloody on The Walking Dead last night. However, life and deathnow has also become part of the narrative in the over-seven-year-long legal battle between AMC and original TWD showrunner Frank Darabont and CAA over about $300 million in profit-participation payouts from the once-blockbuster zombie apocalypse series.
Specifically, whether the coronavirus pandemic should delay the cacophonously contested matter from finally going to trial in NYC starting on April 26 or not.
As they indicted on a call with Empire State Supreme Court Justice Joel Cohen late last week, defendant AMC’s Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher team filed a motion to vacate and continue the trial until the Covid-19 health crisis is truly over.
“This complex case involves too many lawyers and witnesses from too many parts of the country (primarily California) and will last for too long for it to be litigated in-person at this time,” says the defendants’ memorandum supporting their motion. “There are no countervailing interests in life or liberty that warrant imposing the extreme and potentially fatal risks on the lawyers, witnesses, and the community,” the distressed document adds (read it here). “The Court should adjourn the trial until it can be held safely.”
Poetically of sorts, the fairly dense filing actually games out how things could go if the approximately five-week trial really does start next month – and it ain’t a healthy outcome.
“In short, the likely result of pressing forward with a trial next month would be to impose undue, significant and grave health and safety risks on dozens of individuals—only to declare a mistrial after some portion of those involved in the trial become infected and unable to continue,” declares AMC’s outside counsel of Orin Snyder, Scott Edelman and Illissa Samplin.
Alternatively, in a deft move of sorts that may gain some traction with the clearly frustrated Justice Cohen, AMC say they’ll settle for what is currently a jury trial becoming a bench trial. It was just such a West Coast-based bench trial with the somewhat similar case involving Robert Kirkman last year that went spectacularly AMC’s way in LA Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley’s verdict
Of course, as anyone who has followed the Darabont case even a little bit knows, even the purest of motivation has some bite to it when it comes to the egos, tempers and sheer cash involved
“Plaintiffs profess to be unconcerned with the risks they and their counsel will be exposed to at trial,” AMC’s memo states of Darabont, CAA and their lawyers at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump LLP. “This is unfortunate gamesmanship.”
Dale Kinsella would call it something else – and the uber-attorney did just that in a statement to Deadline today.
“AMC’s motion grossly and unfairly mischaracterizes Plaintiffs’ concern for the very real risks posed by Covid-19,” said the Santa Monica-based lawyer. “But that AMC would claim that we are ‘unconcerned’ with those risks is a new low,” he bluntly adds.
“It goes without saying that AMC and their counsel do not have a monopoly on concern for the welfare of jurors, parties, witnesses, lawyers, and court personnel,” Kinsella noted. “We trust the judge and the court system to help ensure the safety of all involved. Having said that, given the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, the outrageous claims made in AMC’s motion, and the New York judiciary’s desire to see this case finally, and safely, come to trial after nearly eight years, any further response will be contained in the opposition we intend to file next week.”
AKA, give me a break.
After the response from Darabont and CAA’s team, there will be a hearing near the end of the month or in early April to determine if the trial will actually occur as scheduled or not. Reading judicial tea leaves and the conversation during last week’s hearing where this matter of vacating the trial came up, it seems like Justice Cohen may not be so inclined to move the trial start date and go ahead with this as a test case of reopening the courts in New York.
Darabont was suddenly fired from TWD just before its second season debuted in October 2011. As the show climbed to the top of the cable and broadcast pile, the Shawshank Redemption director and his reps at CAA took the then-Charlie Collier-run AMC to court in New York at the tail end of 2013.
Amidst explicit emails, summary judgements, alleges of self-dealing, a since retired judge and what can most diplomatically be called legal trench warfare since then, Darabont and CAA are basically insisting the EP had been denied big bucks in contractually obligated profits due to a sinister sleight of hand by the Dolan family owned AMC. Along with everything else over the years, the matter saw a second and now consolidated $10 million lawsuit added in early 2018, based on a reading of TWD comic creator Kirkman’s contract – the very contract with AMC that was the foundation of that July 2020 bench trial verdict in Kirkman’s own suit against AMC.
Once thing is for sure on this ever shifting landscape, no one here gets out unscathed – just ask Robert Patrick’s Meyers on the March 14 episode of TWD.