Friday, September 16, 2011

UPDATE: 'Bruno' as Hard as 'Borat' to Defeat in Court

Cover of "Brüno [Blu-ray]"Cover of Brüno [Blu-ray]English actor/comic Sacha Baron Cohen was engaged in protected First Amendment speech when an improvised scene involving his film character "Bruno" disrupted a charity Bingo game and sparked a lawsuit by a woman who blamed the actor for injuries she sustained, according to reports by Associated Press and The Hollywood Reporter's law blog, THR, Esq.

California's 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said an 11-count complaint brought by Richelle Olson and her spouse Lance Olson against Cohen, NBC Universal, Cold Stream Productions, LLC and others two years ago should be dismissed (see "TUOL" post 6/8/09). Mrs. Olson, the former executive director of Desert Valley Charities that staged the Bingo game, sued for assault and negligence, among other claims, alleging Cohen was responsible for injuries she suffered when she fell and struck her head shortly after grappling with the actor as she tried to regain the microphone he was using to call a ribald version of Bingo.

Olson originally had consented to allow Cohen to film the Bingo game in May 2007, as part of  the movie Bruno that focused on a gay Austrian fashion designer, but objected when the actor graphically linked the numbers he was calling to homosexual relationships in which his character had been involved. The unscripted scene was not included in the final version of the comedy film.

The defendants filed an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Law Against Public Participation) against the plaintiffs, asserting that Cohen's zany conduct advanced free speech.  The appellate court agreed, saying Cohen was offering commentary on homophobia and gay stereotypes during the scene at issue, which is protected  speech under the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs are likely to be socked with the defendants' legal costs.

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