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Eastwood Turns Up Volume in Defense

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

He said he did her a favor; she said he did her wrong.

The courtroom battle between co-stars and former lovers Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke heated up Tuesday in Burbank as the previously laconic Eastwood grew animated on the witness stand, denying that he used his clout with Warner Bros. to sink Locke’s budding director’s career after their bitter breakup in 1989.

The messy split saddened him, Eastwood said, and Locke’s decision to slap him with a palimony suit and talk to the tabloids “disappointed” him. But, he testified, he’s never deliberately put someone out of work and he never would have schemed to harm Locke, his constant companion for 14 years.

“I never intended to defraud anyone,” Eastwood testified. “I didn’t discourage them from making movies with Sondra Locke.” To hear him tell it, Eastwood encouraged the studio to hire her as a director, going to bat for her at least twice.

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Eastwood told the jury that the palimony suit and resultant publicity felt at the time like Locke and her lawyers “were holding a gun to my head, like it was social extortion.”

During her testimony last week, Locke placed Eastwood at the center of a story of Hollywood money, power and duplicity.

She alleged that Eastwood tricked her into dropping her palimony suit by dangling a three-year, $1.5-million development deal to direct at Warner Bros. She got the office on the studio lot and the parking place with her name on it, according to testimony, but she didn’t make any movies. She pitched more than 30 projects, and the studio passed on all of them.

Both sides agree that Eastwood never told Locke that he’d guaranteed to cover the studio’s costs if Locke didn’t make money for the studio. But the parties applied a different spin to Eastwood’s nondisclosure.

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Locke and her lawyer, Peggy Garrity, allege that Eastwood was being deceitful and that she never would have accepted a deal financed by Eastwood because it sent a message to the studio and film industry that she wasn’t to be taken seriously.

But Eastwood testified Tuesday that he agreed to underwrite Locke’s development deal as the “icing on the cake” to convince studio Chairman Terry Semel to accept it.

“I felt she certainly was as viable as other people who had development deals at the studio,” Eastwood told jurors. “It was kind of a negotiating thing. I wanted her to have this thing. I thought if I showed my enthusiasm, they’d take it as a very fine gesture and make movies with her.” He added that he didn’t disclose his financial role to Locke because, he said, “I didn’t want to grandstand and say, ‘Here, I’m getting you this deal and I’m standing behind it.’ That wouldn’t be very complimentary.”

Eastwood added that he couldn’t understand the dark spin Locke and her lawyers have applied to his motives.

“I don’t understand that philosophy. It sounds like a dime novel or something,” he testified.

While he testified in his own own defense on Tuesday, Eastwood’s demeanor differed noticeably from the previous day, when Locke had called him as her final witness in a civil case in which she seeks damages in excess of $2 million.

On Monday, responding to questions with curt, one-word answers, the 66-year-old actor’s witness stand performance was more reminiscent of his hard-boiled “Dirty Harry” character.

But on Tuesday, jurors got to see Eastwood’s softer “Bridges of Madison County” side as he was questioned by his lawyer, Ray Fisher.

He also switched media strategies on Tuesday, meeting with reporters on the steps of the Burbank courthouse rather than ducking out a back door.

“I didn’t want to talk in the middle of the event,” he explained.

Again, he said he was trying to help Locke, not to hurt her. “They are trying to make it into a dime-novel plot, with some sort of fraud involved, which just isn’t the case,” he said. “I did nothing but spend my time and efforts on her behalf, and no good deed goes unpunished.”

He said his time in court has been a trial in itself.

“It’s stressful. It’s very stressful, because you don’t need to be called into court all the time.

“We’ve all got better things to do, at least I have better things to do. It’s dragging up some bad memories,” he said.

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Also on Tuesday, a state appellate court overturned Superior Court Judge David M. Schacter’s ruling excluding the public and media from all court proceedings held outside the jury’s presence at the civil trial.

The state Court of Appeal ruled that orders to exclude the media and public from civil trials should be the exception, not the norm.

As the trial began last week, Schacter had ordered reporters to wait outside while attorneys argued over evidence and other matters, saying, in part:

“This jury is not sequestered, and to prevent the jury from hearing information regarding evidence that may not be presented to the jury or is not relevant to these proceedings, it is necessary that only the litigants and their attorneys be present during those discussions with the court.”

He said that the court’s “primary purpose” was that the parties receive a fair trial before an impartial jury untainted by outside influences, including news reports. Schacter said that the media’s 1st Amendment protections had not been infringed upon because the information would be made available at the conclusion of the trial.

Several news organizations, including The Times, appealed Schacter’s order.

In the first precedent upholding press and public access since the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal ruled that Schacter had not sufficiently exhausted other remedies--including ordering the jurors to avoid press accounts--before excluding the media.

“We recognize the respondent court’s legitimate concerns relating to juror exposure to inadmissible evidence,” wrote Justice Paul Turner. “However, that possibility standing alone is insufficient to support the present closure order.”

The higher court set aside the trial judge’s closure order and ordered transcripts of the closed hearings be made available to the public.


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