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Comedian, Allred at impasse on sit-down

Michael Richards will skip a `jury' session with the lawyer and people he targeted in a tirade.

February 16, 2007|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

A controversy that began with actor Michael Richards using the n-word in a stand-up comedy routine now hinges on an "m" word -- namely, the difference between a "meeting" and a "mediation."

A promised conference this weekend between Richards and the four African Americans whom he targeted during a racist onstage tirade three months ago has stalled over the two sides' inability to agree on how the session should proceed -- and whether it would be a legal mediation.

But that doesn't mean the issue is dropped.

Attorney Gloria Allred said Thursday that she is convening a three-member "jury" of a retired judge and two lawyers to hear a presentation Saturday afternoon of what happened at the Laugh Factory on the Sunset Strip on Nov. 17, when Richards repeatedly used the n-word during a mid-performance outburst. The session will be closed to the public but open to the media, she said.

"We will leave it to the three members of the 'jury' to tell us whether they think, under the facts and the law, he should be accountable and, if so, in what way," Allred said.

Richards is invited, but he won't be there.

His lawyer, Douglas Mirell, insisted that any meeting between Richards -- who famously portrayed Kramer on "Seinfeld" -- and the four patrons be private as part of legal mediation.

Mirell complained that he had no input on the time, place, identity of the judge or the conditions of the session that Allred has scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Loyola Law School in downtown Los Angeles. Mirell said he learned of the meeting in a letter from Allred's law partner, Nathan Goldberg.

Richards, he said, did not agree to the session.

"I don't even know who they're planning to use as the retired judge, and we certainly haven't had any agreement about it," Mirell said. "That's obviously a part of mediation. Both sides have to be comfortable with who the mediator is."

Mirell also said that while Richards' comments were "inappropriate, they are not legally actionable" and that, if Richards does face mediation or a lawsuit, he intends to oppose a cash settlement under his 1st Amendment right to free speech.

But Allred disputed that a mediation had ever been in the works. In letters between the two sides, Mirell routinely refers to arranging a "mediation." But Goldberg's letters call it a "meeting with a retired judge."

The difference: A mediation would be covered by California law, which mandates such sessions be conducted in private and the details not be presentable in court, Mirell said.

But a meeting before a retired judge would be outside the legal guidelines of a formal mediation.

Asked whether she was concerned that the public might see Saturday's presentation as a kangaroo court meant to stir publicity, Allred said she believed the public would be interested in a full airing.

"We want accountability, and we want the public to understand the significance of the n-word and how it has hurt" her clients, three men and a woman, Allred said.

The controversy began when Richards, responding to what he thought was a heckler, launched into a tirade from the Laugh Factory stage.

He repeatedly used the n-word and referred to lynching before walking off the stage. An audience member caught the incident on a cellphone video camera, and it quickly made its way to the Internet.

Richards has apologized publicly several times and agreed to meet with the four patrons and a retired judge to "help the parties resolve this matter," according to a statement released at the time.

Mirell said Richards still would like to apologize in person.

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scott.martelle@latimes.com

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