'Bruno' attorneys threaten Olson and her lawyers; new details of bingo altercation

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'Bruno' attorneys threaten Olson and her lawyers; new details of bingo altercation

Mon Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:45PM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Bruno First there was the serious-sounding lawsuit alleging that Sacha Baron Cohen and his "Bruno" crew beat up a woman at a charity bingo game.

Then Universal Pictures, which is releasing the film, fired back, saying the taped footage of the alleged incident proved Cohen and cohorts did nothing wrong.

Now the lawyers for the film are really going on the offensive. We snagged a copy of a letter sent Friday from "Bruno" production counsel Russell Smith to Richelle and Lance Olson's lawyers threatening to punish them for bringing what Smith calls a "demonstrably and ludicrously false complaint."

(Here's the full letter.)

"If you do not file a voluntary dismissal of the complaint with prejudice, and if you do not do so by this Monday, June 8, our clients will avail themselves of every legal remedy against you and your clients," writes Smith of New York's Smith Dehn to Olson lawyers Kyle Madison and Walter Batt. "Such remedies include, but are not limited to, a motion for sanctions under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 128, and/or an immediate motion for summary judgment, with court approval."

The letter also threatens to go after the Olsons and their lawyers for making defamatory statements to the press: "If you and your clients persist with this frivolous lawsuit and related defamation, we will seek fines, damages, and attorneys' fees against you and your clients."

There's precedent here, of course. Fox pursued some of the "victims" of Cohen's "Borat" for bringing lawsuits that were later dismissed. The studio even managed to win attorneys fees in at least one of the cases.

Interestingly, the letter also lays out the filmmakers' version of the incident that led to the lawsuit. Some new details:

  • "Mr. Baron Cohen never touched Ms. Olson, much less assaulted her. To the contrary, Ms. Olson assaulted Mr. Baron Cohen, grabbing his arms from behind and attempting to pull him out of a chair."
  • "Putting aside the impossibility of  camera crew physically attacking Ms. Olson while at the same time filming her, the actual footage reveals that the number of crew members and other persons who attacked your client is zero."
  • "Your clients also allege that Mr. Baron Cohen used 'vulgar and offensive language over the loud speakers of the bingo hall,' that 'the bingo players are predominantly elderly,' and that they 'felt violated.' ... The footage shows that most of the bingo players were relatively young (like the plaintiffs), and that Mr. Cohen offered only light-hearted comments that were met with general laughter from the audience, and even applause."

The rest of the letter lays out a now-familiar argument. Olson signed a release promising not to sue, so she's out of luck:

"If you believe the agreements your clients signed will not be enforced, you are mistaken. The agreements contain virtually the same language as the agreements in the various 'Borat' litigations, in which courts from California to Alabama to New York have enforced those same contractual provisions in the face of claims not as weak as the bogus allegations of your clients."

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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