In celebration of Tax Day today, we here at Law Law Land offer tribute to our favorite celebrity/IRS run-ins. Now, lest you think this is just another list airing dirty celebrity tax laundry, think again. This is a classy publication, as you well know, so if you’re looking for dirt on which celebrities owe what, look elsewhere. . . like
My daughter has always been squeamish about eyeballs.
Ask her to name the scariest movie of all time? Who Framed Roger Rabbit, of course. She saw it once (and only once) at the age of four, and the scene near the end, in which the flattened Judge Doom re-inflates himself and reveals the malevolent Toon lurking beneath his popped-out prosthetic eyeballs, scarred her for life. And so, our family will always fast-forward past the melting of Nazi agent Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, decline to mourn the loss of Mad-Eye Moody inHarry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part I, and just steer clear of the absolute abomination that is Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
I mention all this so that you will understand the sense of abject horror and dread I experienced when, several weeks ago, I drove to work down Motor Avenue and found myself face to face with a giant, eerie nun, her face as white as alabaster, crying (or bleeding?) black liquid from alien-like eyes. It was a (thoroughly disturbing) billboard for American Horror Story: Asylum looming over the entrance to Fox Studios. Adjacent to our beloved dog park. Big as the Times Square Jumbotron. I knew my daughter would freak out, and freak she did.
She insisted that I call the studio and demand that the billboard be removed immediately, which gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss that little thing called the First Amendment. Once I got going, she quickly went from billboard-ed to bored, and ultimately resolved to cover her eyes with a sweatshirt if I would simply shut up. But the issue stuck with me. As an attorney, I’m comfortable with the fact that First Amendment expression should not be unduly chilled by a ten-year-old with a (perhaps unreasonable) eye phobia. But the mom in me took umbrage at this offensive (or at least unsettling) billboard content. Should Fox have the right to upset my kid on a daily basis in its attempt to bring more “eyeballs” to its advertisers?
What do you get when you mix a racy photo, alleged computer hacking, Twitter, and a Congressman named Weiner? (Besides Jon Stewart’s debut as an R&B producer.) That’s right, faithful readers, you get a smorgasbord of 21st century legal issues, and an example of why privacy is harder to keep than ever. You also get a great reason to think twice about what you save on your computer. And you get the joy of what is undoubtedly the best name for a scandal since “DickiLeaks.”
You’ve probably heard about Congressman Anthony Weiner, and the tough week he’s had. To recap, Weiner’s hard drive was “hacked” and a bulging photo (labeled “package.jpg”!) was sent to a college student from his Twitter account. Then the interwebs started chirping and the politician non-denial denials started (“I can’t say with certitude” [that it isn’t my bulging crotch making the Internet rounds]). Then the conservative bloggers found some absurd photos of Weiner showing off his pecs in front of framed photos of his family. And before you know it, we’ve got tearful televised confessions (“The picture was of me, I sent it”), and voila, a new word is seared into the American collective consciousness: Weinergate! It’s hard not to feel both bad for and perplexed by Weiner, even if he isn’t exactly the first New York Congressman to get caught sending racy pics this year. But I can also only feel so bad about any situation that results in one of my coworkers walking into a department meeting and announcing, “I can’t get enough Weiner!”
Of course, at this point, we all know that Weiner’s initial explanation for the sudden proliferation of his groinal region on the Internet — that his Twitter account was “hacked” — was as bogus as it sounded. But what if we lived in a magical world where a politician’s initial explanation for a totally inexplicable scandal was actually true? Let’s look at what anti-hacking laws say Weiner could have done. (Besides resigning, hiding out for a year, then taking a cushy job on cable news).
(Note: not covered here are potential claims for copyright infringement based on the unauthorized distribution of the photo itself, a favorite theory in the ever-popular celebrity-trying-to-block-a-sex-tape segment.)…
Continue Reading My Twitter Has a Second Name, it’s W-E-I-N-E-R
Ever since the calendar flipped into 2011, we the people have been flooded with half-headlines about Republican candidates-in-waiting who may or may not be running for president in 2012. And now that Barack Obama has (surprise!) announced his intention to run for re-election, people are more interested than ever to learn who might be opposing him.
Because no one necessarily wants to be the first out of the gate — and therefore, perhaps, the first subject to stringent regulations governing candidates for federal office — the statements have been comically non-committal, if not borderline impossible to parse. Last month, Newt Gingrich declared that he was “excited about exploring whether there is sufficient support for my potential candidacy for president of this exceptional country.” (Super.) A couple weeks ago Tim Pawlenty boldly declared on Piers Morgan Tonight, “I’m running for president!” — after which his spokesman announced that no decision had been made, and that Pawlenty’s people had “expressed our displeasure” with CNN for “report[ing] the full quote out of context.” (Thanks for clearing that up.) Obviously, we can assume that any presidential announcement is “not intended to be a factual statement.”
But no one has played the game of am-I-or-aren’t-I-running better than Donald Trump, whose presidential ambitions have been the subject of rampant speculation since last fall. Trump has made many comments about his potential Presidential bid, and has even been endorsed by Gary Busey (umm…good for him?). Last Friday, Trump’s spokesman made the following announcement:
On the May 22 season finale of Celebrity Apprentice, Mr. Trump may announce the time and place of a press conference at which time he will make a statement as to whether or not he will run for president of the United States.
In other words, on April 15, Trump announced that, on May 22, he may announce the future time and date at which he may announce that he’s running for president (in an election that’s taking place 19 months from now). It was an announcement of a potential announcement about another announcement. I’m not certain, but this may have ripped a hole in the space-time-logic continuum.
But this is an entertainment law blog, not a political blog. So I won’t use this blog post to poke fun at
Donald Trump Republicans our political system (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbertdo such a good job already). Instead I’m going to talk about how The Donald’s candidacy would affect his hit reality TV show, The [optional: Celebrity] Apprentice. (The same issue would have arisen with Sarah Palin’s Alaska had that show not been — *emo tear* —canceled after its first season in January. And people say Americans have no taste in television.)…
Continue Reading Trump for President? The Equal Time Rule and Reality TV
Our loyal Law Law Land readers already know about the intrigue that surrounds so-called court “reality” shows like Judge Judy and The People’s Court. (For those who missed it, I broke the shocking news that — brace yourselves, people — those “courts” aren’t really courts at all.) So where can avid followers turn for a glimpse of real-life justice? In many cases, the public’s view of the inside of a court trial is limited to the lifelike renderings of the courtroom’s sketch artist. But occasionally, a judge decides to allow a video camera into the courtroom and we can watch the proceedings for ourselves.
Last month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor ruled that a television camera will be allowed in the courtroom for the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s former doctor, Conrad Murray, for which jury selection began last week. Judge Pastor asked for the “absolute least-intrusive placement” of the camera and prohibited cameras from being present at jury selection.
Judge Pastor was able to make that ruling because in state courts in California, pursuant to California Rule of Court 1.150, “Photographing, recording, and broadcasting of courtroom proceedings may be permitted as circumscribed in this rule if executed in a manner that ensures that the fairness and dignity of the proceedings are not adversely affected.” Specifically, a judge “in his or her discretion may permit, refuse, limit, or terminate media coverage.”
In making his decision, the judge must take into account a whole litany of factors, including: the importance of maintaining public trust and confidence in the judicial system; the importance of promoting public access to the judicial system; the parties’ support of or opposition to the request; privacy rights of participants; the maintenance of the orderly conduct of the proceeding; and any other factor the judge deems relevant. In sum, a state court judge has a ton of discretion, especially because he can consider “any factor [he] deems relevant.” (I, for one, would propose a few additional factors for consideration, like “how to best avoid an O.J. Simpson trial-style media circus” or, a closely related inquiry, “how to not be Judge Lance Ito.”)…
Continue Reading Cameras in the Courtroom: Access to Justice or Media Circus?
Last year, after Big Love star Chloe Sevigny trash-talked her show’s season, calling it “awful,” we took our dear readers through the ins and outs of non-disparagement clauses in celebrity contracts, and how they can (or can’t) prevent stars from criticizing a show or movie while simultaneously making bank on it. (Along the same lines, stay tuned for our much anticipated analysis of the dispute between Charlie Sheen, CBS/Warner Bros., and showrunner Chuck Lorre. Sneak preview: we will not be able to restrain the urge to make extremely obvious and ubiquitous “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA” references.)
But what happens when a star makes comments that are not disparaging to the star’s current project or boss, and instead are just generally perceived by certain people (or everybody) as offensive or insensitive? Surely the First Amendment must protect this kind of speech!
Not so fast, Dr. Laura. Because as we like to say around these parts, the right to free speech is not the right to consequence-free speech.…
Continue Reading How “Free” is “Free Speech?” You’re Still Fired (And/Or a Jerk)
Congratulations! You’ve survived another mid-term election. Perhaps you’ve spent this election cycle drinking tea, or maybe you’ve spent your time supporting every Californian’s right to ingest and enjoy other types of leaves. You’ve also likely spent considerable time reviewing the U.S. Constitution looking for that pesky “separation of church and state” concept (it can be so hard to find buried in our very first amendment…).
Regardless of your personal politics, you probably haven’t emerged unscathed from the 24-hour news cycle’s obsession with the personal lives of America’s candidates. I, for one, could devote this post (and many more) to simply reiterating some of the more comical stories that have hit the papers about our government hopefuls. But I am an employment lawyer, which means that until Christine O’Donnell wrongfully terminates and then hexes her own cleaning lady for disturbing the Wiccan altar in her den, my obvious pick is the debacle surrounding Meg Whitman and her now-(in)famous housekeeper, Nicandra Diaz Santillan.
At this point, you’re either shaking your head in agreement with me while rolling your eyes at Meg’s mistake, or getting all flustered about the “lamestream media” making much ado about nothing (in which case, I would have to ask — you really think this blog is [main/lame]stream?). But do you even really know what she did — or, more importantly, why it might be wrong? My guess is: probably not.
Which is why, as we all collectively exhale at the end of another grueling election season, I offer you — the would-be candidates, the armchair political analysts, and the mildly nervous readers with housekeepers of their own — this handy-dandy guide to the Great Meg Whitman “Nannygate 2.0: Now Featuring Gloria Allred” Scandal of 2010 (Oh, you’d forgotten about Zoe Baird and Nannygate? So, apparently, had Meg.):…
Continue Reading Law Law Land’s Guide to Nannygate 2.0: Be the Most Informed Political Analyst on Your Block