The attempted revenge of a onetime nerd, protecting a princess’ image, princely pursuits, and the virtue of the bride of the late king of rock ‘n’ roll preoccupy our inquiring legal minds:
SANDLOT RULES: Growing up together in the San Fernando Valley of the 1960s, David Mickey Evans and Michael Polydoros played sandlot baseball together, but they weren’t exactly pals. Evans was one of the cool kids. Polydoros “was the quintessential nerd,” his lawyer said. “Everybody picked on him.”
Once schoolmates in Pacoima, the pair would meet again years later in a courtroom--the nerd as plaintiff, the cool kid as defendant. Their case would one day wind up on the cutting edge of the laws of free speech and privacy, as Polydoros accused Evans of misappropriating his childhood nerdiness in the 1993 coming of age film “The Sandlot.”
The comedy, about a ragtag team of losers that overcomes adversity to prevail over smugly superior opponents, features a prominent geek character, named “Michael Palledorous” aka “Squints.” Even an appellate court noted that the fictional Michael bore an uncanny resemblance to the real one as a 10-year-old--"right down to [his] eyeglasses and the color and design of his shirt.”
Polydoros’ lawyer, Tom Brackey, said: “It was the shirt that set me off. In two consecutive yearbook photographs, he wore the same shirt. I guess he wore it all the time.”
Brackey said Polydoros, who works for a film distributor, got contact lenses, had his teeth fixed and put his nerd past behind him. Until the movie and the character “Squints” appeared.
In 1994, Polydoros sued Evans--the movie’s writer and director--and 20th Century Fox Film Corp. for invasion of privacy and exploitation of his likeness. The case was dismissed two years later. Had he prevailed, he could have received damages and a share of the film’s profits.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal recently upheld retired Superior Court Judge Jack Newman’s ruling that the film was protected by the 1st Amendment and did not defame Polydoros or damage him financially.
Lawyers for Evans and 20th Century Fox hailed the decision as an important free speech victory strengthening the rights of writers and film producers.
“The Court of Appeal expands freedom of filmmakers to depict characters and incidents from their own lives without risk of liability,” said Henry Fetter, a lawyer for Evans.
“Simply because the film is made for profit and promoted and advertised doesn’t take it out of the realm of constitutional protection,” added attorney Karen Brodkin. An average person’s name and likeness, she said, have no commercial value.
But lawyer Brackey said the ruling means private citizens now enjoy weaker privacy rights than celebrities. And, he said, it could alter the long-standing practice of paying private citizens for rights to their stories.
He is preparing an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
MARKETING A PRINCESS: Here in the colonies, Princess Diana’s heirs and charities are expected to follow in the footsteps of foundations established in memory of such celebs as Elvis Presley, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe--whose candles burned out long before their marketing value ever will.
Kate Knightly Day, a spokeswoman for the princess’ newly formed charitable trust, said the estate and trust are discussing legal means to preserve their U.S. rights to control the quality of memorabilia and other products seeking to use Princess Diana’s name and likeness.
Possible steps, she said, include registering the princess’ trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The estate also can register her heirs’ rights to inherit and benefit from her publicity value with the California secretary of state.
The Franklin Mint seems to have won the race to the federal patent office. On Aug. 8--a little more than three weeks before the princess’ death--an attorney for the mint applied for the eerily prescient trademark “Diana, Forever a Princess.” The application seeks rights to market jewelry, clothing, handbags, dolls and doll accessories.
Princess Diana’s estate will be likely to successfully oppose the mint’s trademark application if it chooses, said Rod S. Berman, a trademark attorney whose clients have included O.J. Simpson.
Mint spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss said all the mint’s efforts are being focused on a Princess Diana commemorative plate, which has been advertised in this and other newspapers. She acknowledged that the mint is acting without the imprimatur of the memorial trust.
But, she added, the mint pledges to donate 100% of the proceeds from the $29.95 plates to the princess’ favorite charitable causes--AIDS, breast cancer and children’s charities.
Day said, however, that without the memorial trust’s stamp of approval, collectors really have no guarantee that the money actually would reach the princess’ favorite charities.
Meanwhile, trademark attorneys say that while Britain does not recognize publicity rights, the laws in celebrity-studded California are particularly favorable when it comes to issues of fame, fortune and the rights of a celebrity’s heir to inherit the commercial value of such fame. Laws governing publicity rights have been on the books since 1985; 13 other states have similar laws.
Berman, a member of the International Trademark Assn., said his group is pushing Congress for a national law to protect publicity rights.
“The growing trend for states is to protect celebrities and personalities,” Berman said. A national law, he added, would provide a uniform standard.
IT’S GOOD TO BE THE SULTAN: While being a head of state spared the sultan of Brunei from a beauty queen’s lawsuit, his younger brother, Prince Haji Jefri Bolkiah, was not similarly shielded from her allegations that she was lured to the tiny, oil-rich paradise and treated like a sex slave.
Although the prince technically remains a defendant, the case filed by former Miss USA Shannon Marketic got murkier with U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall’s latest ruling that the prince can be covered by the Foreign Service Immunity Act.
A spokesman for the royal family of Brunei said Prince Jefri may be dismissed as a defendant if Marketic’s lawyers can’t prove he was acting outside the scope of his royal duties while engaging in the conduct alleged in the lawsuit.
In essence, Marketic must show that the prince had a financial arrangement with the talent agency that sent her and other beauties to Brunei.
Once there, Marketic alleged, her passport was seized and she was tested for sexually transmitted diseases, drugged and held against her will in a huge palace for 32 days.
The 50-year-old sultan has denied the allegations. He was dropped as a defendant last month, after attorneys for the U.S. State Department argued that he was protected by sovereign immunity.
The royal family said in a statement, “We look forward to the conclusion of this case, which should never have been brought.”
SUSPICIOUS MINDS: A legal tiff brewing in Superior Court in Santa Monica between Priscilla Presley and one of Elvis Presley’s old Army buddies is focusing on a subject that strikes us as a bit personal--the status of her virginity on her wedding day.
Nobody seems to be worrying about Elvis’ virtue. How do you prove virginity so many years after the fact, anyway?
Presley sued LaVern Currie Grant for $10 million, alleging libel and slander in connection with an interview she said he gave the author of a book about her called “Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley.”
Grant, she alleged, falsely told the author that he had sex with her before she met Elvis at age 14. She married Presley seven years later.
Her defamation suit portrays Grant as a groupie who ultimately was excluded from Elvis’ circle of friends and has obsessed about it for 40 years.
Grant countersued for $5 million, alleging that she told the author Grant tried to rape her.
Looks like a classic case of he said / she said. The trial date has been set for May 4. And, yup, there’s already a TV movie deal in the works.