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Eastwood Settles Fraud Suit With Ex-Lover Locke

Courts: She will receive an undisclosed amount of money. Jurors say they would have sided with her.

September 25, 1996|ANN W. O'NEILL and EFRAIN HERNANDEZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Sondra Locke wrested a fistful of dollars Tuesday from former lover and co-star Clint Eastwood, settling a fraud suit against the Academy Award-winning director she contended sabotaged her career after their 1989 split.

The amount of the monetary settlement was not disclosed.

The 48-year-old Locke said that she felt vindicated by what she considers a victory for "the little person." During the trial, she referred to Eastwood as "The Unfightable One."

The outcome of her case, Locke said, sends a "loud and clear" message to Hollywood "that people cannot get away with whatever they want to, just because they're powerful."

The settlement was announced Tuesday morning, as jurors were to begin a second day of deliberations in Burbank Superior Court.

As they left the courthouse, several jurors said it was clear Locke would win the trial, but that they were undecided how much money to award her. Some jurors thought she should receive many millions of dollars while others were leaning toward a figure perhaps lower than $100,000, they said.

"I just hope she got a good deal," said jury forewoman Brenda Williams. "Hopefully, this will bring some closure and she can move on with her career."

Peggy Garrity, Locke's lawyer, said, "This ends the litigation between Sandra Locke and Clint Eastwood. We hope forever."

Locke told reporters Tuesday that while the settlement means "I don't have to worry about working," she would have been gratified had the jury found in her favor and awarded her only one dollar.

"This was never about money," she added. "It was about my fighting for my professional rights."

Garrity characterized the case as loaded with gender issues, telling reporters gathered outside her office in Santa Monica: "It was about power and the arrogance of power. I see her as sort of an Everywoman for the '90s," she said of Locke.

The case also spawned a legal landmark, as a state appellate court ruled that the same constitutional guarantees giving the public the right to attend criminal trials also applies to civil cases. The decision resulted from appeals by the The Times and KNBC of a ruling by Superior Court Judge David M. Schacter to close the courtroom during hearings held outside the jury's presence.

During the trial, Locke alleged that Eastwood had duped her into dropping her 1989 palimony suit by dangling a bogus three-year development deal to direct at Warner Bros. Before the split, she'd directed two pictures to critical acclaim. But after the deal, she pitched more than 30 projects; Warner Bros. rejected them all.

Locke contended that she later learned why: Her $1.5-million deal was secretly financed by Eastwood, a fact her lover of 14 years failed to disclose. She got the money, but said the rejections ruined her career.

Several jurors agreed that testimony by executives from Warner Bros. made it clear to them that had Eastwood wanted Locke to be treated better, she would have been.

Juror Robert Campbell said Eastwood even showed animosity toward Locke during his testimony, helping to sway jurors toward her side.

"Clint's blowup on the witness stand had a lot to do with it," said Campbell, 28, of Burbank. "It was already decided that she had won. It was only a matter of damages."

Campbell also said that Locke showed she was talented and could have been highly successful.

"Her whole career was ruined and she needs to be compensated for that," Campbell said. "As soon as [their relationship] ended she was left out in the cold."

Eastwood never wanted to hurt Locke, according to his lawyer, Raymond Fisher, who said the lawsuit stemmed from "a misunderstanding."

"I think he's quite content with this settlement because it allows him to go on with his life," said Fisher.

Fisher had argued to the jury that Locke was, in effect, asking them to label one of Hollywood's most beloved leading men a fraud. Locke, he said, was responsible for her own failure. "This is a case of Ms. Locke blaming everybody but herself," Fisher said.

But jurors' sympathies clearly lay with Locke.

Juror Yvonne Beltzer said Eastwood's "silent partner" involvement in the Warner Bros. deal should have been disclosed to Locke. The true reason for the agreement apparently was to protect Eastwood from bad publicity generated by the palimony suit, she said.

"My belief was that this was kept a secret and certainly was kept a secret from her," Beltzer said. "She had a right to know that."

Locke also had testified that Eastwood took advantage of her, pushing her to accept the Warner deal and drop the case while she was still undergoing chemotherapy after a double mastectomy.

Eastwood, however, responded that his former lover, motivated by money, had smeared him in tabloid headlines, and applied a dark and evil spin to acts he'd intended as generous.

"It's pulp fiction," he told reporters on the courthouse steps last week. "It's all about money . . . about getting something for nothing."

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