My adventures with Rosie
Gruner + Jahr vs. Rosie O'Donnell: Legally, it's a draw
By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY
Legally, no one won.
But to trial watchers, Rosie O'Donnell emerged the winner Wednesday as the emotional court battle over the demise of her magazine came to an end.
In a preliminary ruling just minutes after both sides rested, New York State Supreme Court Judge Ira Gammerman said the court action filed by publishers Gruner + Jahr, claiming that the star caused Rosie's closing, was "an ill-conceived lawsuit."
He said neither side was likely to be awarded any damages.
"It seems to me that aside from the issue of attorney's fees, we're just dealing with bragging rights here," Gammerman said. That leaves the door open for O'Donnell, 41, to recover her legal costs, estimated at $8 million.
"She's the one who prevailed," says Eve Rachel Markewich, a lawyer in New York.
The verdict was "absolutely" a victory for O'Donnell, says Jerry Reisman, a lawyer in Garden City, N.Y. "If you fail to prove your case, you lose."
The case, Reisman says, "shows she's a fighter; she stands for her principles. Don't mess with her."
I've hesistated to write about this, because I didn't really know who I wanted to win. Evil company vs evil celebrity. Kind of hard to choose. But after Gruner and Jahr cooked the circulation figures, I figured this was the best result. They get exposed and she doesn't get a dime in damages.
Back when I was posting on Usenet, I wrote something about Rosie leering at Peta Wilson, the tall, very blonde, very bosomy star of the La Femme Nikita series. See, I'd known for years that O'Donnell was a lesbian. Anyone who walked in a supermarket would have known this. You'd see the Globe or the National Enquirer, and there it was, Rosie walking side by side with some really hot chick and never any guys. Ok, so she's chunky and average looking. So are most of the women at your local PTA and they have husbands.
Now, I didn't care who she fucked, but she always seemed to pay extra special attention to pretty women, in the way Ben Affleck paid attention to pretty women.
But Rosie was nothing like her TV image of smiles and cute sayings. In real life, she was a fucking bitch. Screaming, yelling, throwing tantrums. The kind of thing I'd grown to hate over years of work. A very angry, mean, woman, which the trial revealed. In one case, telling a magazine staffer her cancer-ridden mother was suffering because she was a liar.
You'd hear stories about her banning and threatening people who asked if she was a friend of Dorothy on AOL chat groups. An irony of immense proportions considering her brother is an openly gay politician who represents the West Village up in Albany.
So, one of her minions sees the post, e-mails me a threat and I respond. The next thing I know, I get a phone call checking to see if I exist. It was a male voice, but it must have been someone from her office, or what ever celebrities have, because I get another nasty e-mail intimating legal action.
I don't have a pot to piss in, so I'm not scared of a lawsuit, but I was pissed. So I said, if you sue me, here are the questions I'll ask at the deposition, and then I posted them on Usenet.
As I remember, they centered on her sex life and who she was sleeping with. Never heard from her again. Unlike the people who had been her fans on AOL, I knew my rights and knew that a deposition on her sex life was the last thing she needed. Not that she had any grounds to sue me for a parody. Wilson was and is heterosexual as far as I knew. I had been joking. But I also knew that at that time she had a big, self-inflicted weakspot and I would defend myself using it.
One of the main reasons celebrities don't sue is the deposition. If you say Tom Cruise is gay in the UK, you can and will lose a judgement. But in the US, you have the right to depose him. And then you can ask him if he's ever slept with men. But the best part is the minute the deposition is over, you can release it to the public. So he's never going to sue anyone in the US, even though I would say if he's anything, he's bisexual, not gay. But that's way too fine a distinction to debate in the media when tens of millions are at stake.
One point I will make over and over again, and Atrios proved, just because people threaten legal action, doesn't mean they have a case. So many people back down when they shouldn't. Most claimants, especially in areas around the First Amendment, have such a high burden, that unless you're completely reckless, they don't have much of a shot of winning. It pays to fight in most cases.
posted by Steve @ 3:33:00 PM