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Judge Won't Seal Producer's Legal Fight

March 31, 2006|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

Television impresario Aaron Spelling won't be allowed to keep portions of his own courtroom drama out of the public view, according to a Thursday court ruling.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Highberger denied a request by Spelling's lawyers to seal a deposition taken in a nasty legal fight between the "Beverly Hills, 90210" producer and his former nurse, Charlene Richards.

The Los Angeles Times, represented by 1st Amendment attorney Susan E. Seager, argued that the documents should be open to the public.

Richards has alleged in a lawsuit that Spelling sexually harassed her during the six months she worked for him. Spelling and his wife, Candy, have sued Richards, alleging that she is shaking them down for money and has defamed them.

According to court papers, Richards' former boyfriend, Paul Porter, told attorneys in his deposition that she had disclosed intimate details to him about life inside the Spelling household, including particulars about Aaron Spelling's medication, Candy Spelling and her friends, their actress daughter Tori and security issues at their Holmby Hills home.

Spelling's lawyers argued that in disclosing the information to Porter, Richards breached a signed promise not to divulge details about the family to outsiders.

"She signed a confidentiality agreement in order to get a job and she's breached that agreement and we have sued her accordingly," Spelling lawyer Robert F. Chapman said.

"The Spellings are prepared to litigate the case if it can't be resolved. Confidentiality agreements are important for celebrities. On occasion there is an employee who decides not to comply and that's why we have courts," he said.

But Richards' lawyer, Virginia Keeny, called the attempt to seal the records "a diversion by the Spellings to distract people from the real issue, which is the sexual harassment charges. He is trying to seal the records so that the public doesn't know how little evidence he had in bringing his case against her. It's a further attempt to intimidate her."

Thursday's hearing raised larger issues about the scope of confidentiality agreements that celebrities and other wealthy people frequently make employees sign.

Seager and Keeny have argued that the agreements should not be used to prevent workers from seeking help if employers put them in harm's way.

"We were concerned that Mr. Spelling would use a private contract to try to sanitize and seal the court record," Seager said. "We oppose their request to seal documents because private contracts cannot be used to seal public records and the judge agreed."

Spelling is one of television's most prolific producers. His work includes "Dynasty," "Melrose Place," "Charlie's Angels," "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island." Tori Spelling acted in "Beverly Hills 90210," and stars in a new VH-1 sitcom.

Richards, 56, has alleged that Spelling, 82, made ceaseless propositions and lewd comments during her stint as his nurse. In court papers, Richards alleged Spelling asked her to "dress like a hooker" and to have sex with him after taking Viagra.

In a declaration, Spelling said, "I have absolutely no recollection of engaging in any of the conduct that [Richards] alleges."

The Spellings fired Richards in 2005. The couple sued her for $5 million in November, accusing her of defamation and breach of contract, shortly after Richards' attorneys sent a letter entitled "Survey on sexual harassment by Aaron Spelling" to hundreds of actresses with whom Spelling had worked including Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Teri Hatcher and Cheryl Ladd.

With the sense that the arrival of the tabloids was inevitable, Highberger encouraged both sides to settle.

"This is a case that should be settled by April 12," he said. "If anyone is rational."

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